The Traveling Roses

The Traveling Roses

One of our hosts in Louisiana told us about a mother and daughter team that are cycling the coastlines of North and South America. That’s ambitious! They call themselves The Traveling Roses. They came to stay with our host for a day or two, and just kept staying. Apparently they are very picky about weather conditions by biking. “Oooooh, it rained last night and it’s wet today. Biking in the wet is miserable. Let’s stay another day to let it dry up.” At about five days into their stay, they said they’d be leaving early the next morning. The next morning, they delayed. More bad weather conditions. “It’s overcast. I hate gray days. I hope there’s blue skies tomorrow.” At this point, the host couldn’t take another day of them. He drove them and their bikes 60 miles to their next destination.

But they’re not all bad. One night they offered to make their world famous spaghetti. Giving back for overstaying their welcome. They delayed. The host got anxious because it was getting late and they hadn’t even started. Their world famous spaghetti probably involves a lot of preparation. Cutting up vegetables, adding spices, making the sauce, hand-rolling the pasta. He prompted them and they got to it. They boiled pasta and added Ragu sauce. WORLD FAMOUS!

They started in New Orleans a year ago. And they just got out of Louisiana recently. They hitched rides a number of times, and then overstayed to the extreme in Gueydan, LA. The Methodist church allowed them to stay in their guest house and the Traveling Roses freeloaded for 9 months. There was probably an extended period of morning dew on the ground. You can’t bike in that!

They’ve extended the duration of their coastline trip from 4 years to 6 years after their year long pace to get out of Louisiana. Texas will probably take them 2 years. Maybe they should change their mission to be to bike the coastline of two states. That would save a lot of generous people from being abused.

Reading their website is frustrating. They’ve got ads, a list of “Sponsors,” an “Amazon Store” where you can buy the same gear they’re using, and a few places where they urge you to donate money to their cause. Here’s their sales pitch:

Many folks we’ve met have asked how they could help us, so in late autumn of 2007 we wrote a fundraising letter telling our story, liberally lacing it with movie quotes. Our idea was to ask for a $30 minimum donation and to give away a t-shirt to each person who could identify all the movie quotes hidden in the letter. When we realized how time and cost intensive it would be, we scratched the t-shirt idea, but we still really loved the movie letter.
So, since we know most of you probably have too many t-shirts anyway, we’re going straight to the heart of the matter – and asking for your donation of $30, $50 or more! We hope you enjoy our letter, and we hope it inspires you to click on the button below to help us out by sending us a donation of any amount. Let us know if you can identify any of the movie quotes!

So they’re not giving t-shirts to people who donate? Why make an empty reference? They want everyone to know that they intended to give send t-shirts for donations, but they have no follow through, and are good for nothing. A tease. Empty and parasitic. And a $30 minimum?! That’s asking a lot for supporting a pipe dream.

Ryan and I developed a seething hatred for The Traveling Roses. The mission, “cycling to celebrate life,” seems more like “mooching and lying to take advantage of generous people.” Ryan and I adopted a temporary mission: to warn our hosts about the mother-daughter deadbeat combo coming through

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Hitching out of San Antonio

Leaving San Antonio

I got up early to head out of San Antonio. As I was pedaling on the loop road around San Antonio, a car pulled up next to me, keeping my speed. The girl in the passenger seat said, “Where are you going?” Then she kept asking questions. She and her boyfriend said I was inspiring. They were pumped for me. I told them that this was a first for me, having a car keep my pace to have a conversation while I cycled.

A few serious road cyclists passed me, easily. It seemed to be a popular route. Shitty though. Frontage road to an interstate.

I got stopped at a train crossing. It took about 30-40 minutes. Luckily, a cyclist was stopped there with me, so we talked. He asked about my trip, and said, “Damn, I wish I had done something like that when I was younger. I can’t do that now.” He was talking about his job and responsibilities to his wife and kids. It’s a good reminder of why I’m doing this at all.

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I turned onto the I-10 frontage road on the way to El Paso about 500 miles away. I needed a ride. No way was I going to bike through the desert, and I was trying to get out towards Ryan quickly. He was in Colorado.

I made it to a gas station with a McDonalds. Everyone I asked was local, or on their way to San Antonio. This wasn’t a good spot.

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Hitch to Kerrville

I rode over to the neighboring Valero gas station and pulled up to a Suburban. A young guy and his girlfriend were filling up. I asked them if they were going to El Paso. They weren’t but the guy offered to give me a ride to Kerrville, about 20 miles away. It was hard to know what to do. I could get stranded out in Kerrville if there’s nothing around, and where I am now, I could still go back to San Antonio and have a place to stay if I couldn’t find a ride to El Paso. But I felt I couldn’t give up an offer for a ride, so I took it.

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I knew they were young, but I had know idea Peter was just out of high school, and Alex was going to be going into her senior year. Teenagers. They were really cool though and interested in my trip. I warned them about the quarter-life crisis. “Just look out and be ready for it when you turn 25.” I told them about the path I was on through school and into college, and then spit out to the working world, and then things weren’t so clear. The work path was way more boring, and I didn’t want to get stuck.

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Asking for a Ride at a Gas Station

They dropped me at a pretty active gas station, but it was on the wrong side of the road, the road that would be going East to San Antonio. I was greeted by a motorcycle guy who was with his group. He asked me about my trip. “How far do you usually go each day?” “About 60 miles.” “Oh really? Is that all? I thought you could get further.” Dude, maybe you should try it. Riding up hills involves a lot more than just a turn of your wrist.

Once again, my target was guys in trucks. When I saw one pull up, I would act casually over by my bike outside the store, giving him a few minutes to get out and start the pump. Then, when I was sure he wasn’t still trying to get the pump to accept his debit card, I’d walk over confidently and ask, “Excuse me. Do you happen to be going West towards El Paso?” In asking it, I’d be as harmless as possible, not pushy. Just a nice guy. I would usually get friendly responses, but most were heading East.

I got one guy who was traveling alone with an empty truck to admit that he was going to El Paso. Then I asked, “Would you be able to give me a ride? I’m a cyclist from Atlanta, and I’m just trying to avoid riding through the desert.” He looked a little shocked, then hung his head, and begged me forgiveness. “Sorry, I can’t. I’m sorry. Sorry, sorry. I wish I could. I’m sorry.” He was really sorry. I guess he was really worried what might happen. He probably thought he’d end up dead.

A truck pulled in towing a loaded trailer. The bed of the truck was carrying a four-wheeler, and the trailer was carrying all sorts of gear. I gave it a shot. I figured there’d be room somewhere for my bike. I asked nicely and confidently. The guy was going to El Paso!! But, “I don’t like ridin’ with people.” Old gruff guy with a straight, heartless answer. It was probably better he didn’t give me a ride.

One guy I had asked, who was going East, hung around my hang out area by the store for a while. He was a friendly smart ass. All he offered was “Get pedalin’ man. You got a damn bike.”

Two Latino women saw me waiting out there for a while. I wasn’t going to ask them because they were women — I didn’t want to spook them — and they were in a car. But one of them was curious and sympathetic. I told her I was trying to get to El Paso. “Ooooh, we just came from there. Oh, I’m sorry. I wish we could help.” She asked if I needed anything from the store, like a drink. She really wanted to help me. I could tell from her face. Full of concern.  It was a nice interaction.

Then I saw my ticket out of there. A truck with an empty bed came in pulling a trailer. Four young guys stepped out. I’m pretty sure they were a metal band on tour. This was hopeful. I figured I could bro around with them and get a ride. Plus, typically, these scary-looking metal, or punk, guys are really nice, gentle people. I asked the driver as he walked towards the store. He said they were going to El Paso. Then I asked for a ride. “No dude. Not enough space.” Dammit. I guess with four guys in the truck, it might be a tight squeeze.

But then I noticed that there was a girl who was with them, traveling alone in her empty Ford Focus. Throw my bike in the empty bed of the truck, and I’ll ride with the groupie girl and keep her company. Missed opportunity. Perfect situation. But I made the mistake.

I shouldn’t have let one person make the decision. I should have found the opportunity to ask the whole group, since I’m sure one of them would have had compassion and guilted the less compassionate ones into giving me a ride. Plus, the group might see it as more of an adventure. The one guy probably didn’t want the burden of making the decision to take in a stranger and have it go wrong. Lesson learned.

Get Pedalin’ Man!

After an hour and a half of waiting at the gas station, the “Get pedalin’ man!” comment got to me. Someone told me there was a rest area in 10 miles. I figured that could be a better place to ask for a ride. I got on my bike and rode on the I-10 shoulder.

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Really hot. Nothing around.

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I was a long way from the nearest big town, and about 8 days riding from El Paso. Fuck this.

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I approached a “picnic area.” This was the rest area I heard about, but one important thing was missing: facilities. No facilities, no people. Why would they stop? And I was running out of water. Busted idea.

There was a small truck parked outside one of the picnic areas. The hood was open, overheated engine. There was a stack of about 10 mattresses strapped down in the back of the truck. The Mexican couple who owned the truck were taking a break at the table. I asked them if they had any water. The guy pointed to the roof of his truck, case of water bottles, and told me to help myself. I took one. Then later, after I retreated, and looked down on my luck, he urged me to take more. I took one more. Gracias!

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I had found a piece of board on the side of the road. Desperate situation, desperate measures. Just desperate. I needed to find a ride, but I also needed to help myself get to the next town. So I made a “I Need A Ride” sign using my electrical tape (which I found on the side of the road back in Louisiana), and strapped it underneath the cargo net on my rear rack.

I was speaking to the Mexican couple when an older white lady pulled up in her Suburban. She was traveling alone and stopping to give her dog a walk. I told the couple that I would ask her for a ride, but I that I have a strong feeling she’d be spooked. They said I should give it a shot.

As I approached her, she turned away from me. Then within speaking distance, I started saying, “Excuse me … excuse me.” She didn’t turn around. Then, louder, “Ma’am?” Finally she turned, and I rattled off my story. “… I was just wondering if you could give me a ri..” “No.” Blunt. Bam. Spooked. “Okay, thank you.” I turned around and retreated. I freaked her out.

A few semi-trucks pulled in. I asked the drivers. They all said, “Man, I wish I could, but this is a company truck, and it would be a liability issue.”

SA_Hitch_Bike_Portrait

I rode off. I was hoping my “I Need A Ride” sign would work. No one stopped or honked or anything. I figured it was probably too small. I was racing the sun, trying to get to Segovia with enough time to eat and then head out to find a camping site on the side of the road. It was 6:30 pm, and I still had 10 miles to go.

The Sign Worked

Then I saw two guys pulled over at the off ramp, waving me over. Shit, my sign worked! I had given up hope since I’d been riding with it for about two and a half hours. They said they could take me to El Paso, no problem. As we were loading the bike in the back, Rod asked, “You don’t have any guns or knives on you, right?”

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Rod and Nate are brothers. They were driving back to Phoenix from a week-long vacation in Clearwater, FL. My hometown. Apparently, Rod saw my sign, and thought, “I would want someone to give me a ride if I was biking out here.” He asked Nate, and Nate said, “I don’t want some freak to be sitting behind me.” I guess he thought I might strangle him or something.

We were all put at ease pretty quickly as a lot of information was exchanged. I got to hear their story, and they heard mine. They were all about talking “dude,” and “bro,” and stuff being “tight.” I got a good sense that they were really decent guys. I mean, they took a chance and stopped for me.

I told them about CouchSurfing and they both dug it big time. They liked the idea of knowing a local in the area where you’re traveling, free accommodation, and building karma. They both got amped up on the “pay it forward” idea.

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We stopped in Vanhorn, TX for the night. They got a motel room, and said I could stay. I told them I didn’t mind sleeping on the floor, so I ducked down in the truck as they went to check-in.  Freebie.

SA_Hitch_Motel_Bed

We went to eat at Wendy’s. I bought them dinner off the value menu. A value gesture for their incredible generosity.

My luck had changed. It went from running out of water and looking for a good spot on the side of I-10 to being on a road trip with friends and sleeping in a motel room. I slept in the space between their beds. It was great.

Flow like Water to Phoenix

The next morning we headed out early. They were both saying how they were going to be sad to see me go. I wasn’t looking forward to it either. They would drop me off in Las Cruces, NM, where I could then find a ride up to Albuquerque. I would have a pretty good chance of finding a ride because Albuquerque is the next big town North on I-25.

Rod went a few miles off their track up I-25 to find a good gas station to drop me off. They wanted to solicit potential rides for me. They figured that if they vouched for me to some stranger, I would have a better chance.

We didn’t find much, but we saw a Sam’s Club so we stopped to eat. $2 pizza and drink combo. I treated them again. Another value gesture.

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As we were leaving, I said “Damn, I wish I needed to get to Phoenix.” They agreed. Plus they had been saying that if I ever came through Phoenix, I should call them up and I’d have a place to stay. I started thinking. Maybe it would be a pretty cool jumping off point. I could ride through the Four Corners. Go to Grand Canyon. The main thing was that I didn’t really feel like trying to hitch a ride. I was with two cool guys. I wanted to flow like water.

So as we made it back to the truck where we would be parting ways, I asked if I could join them all the way to Phoenix. They were happy about it. Rod said I could stay with him no problem. Last minute change of plans. I was pumped about it.

San Antonio

Crossing the Border

We got into Nuevo Laredo at 8:00 am. I changed and put together my bike. Then I took off towards the border.

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It was great passing all the cars that were lined up. I was ushered through the pedestrian area. I saw people filing through the turnstiles and having to pay $0.30. The Mexican cop let me through the handicapped gate with my bike. No payment. Gracias amigo!

I stopped to take a photo. I lingered too long. The cop came after me and requested that 30 cents. What I thought was Mexican hospitality was only a mistake. This photo cost me.

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On the US side, the border guard was suspicious. What are you carrying in those bags? Why were you in Mexico? Harmless touring cyclist loading up his panniers with drugs.

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I’m back in the US! Now I could speak English and expect to be understood. The first guy I asked for directions didn’t speak English.

A Sour Return

I changed my pesos into dollars and then went to Wendy’s to get a wireless connection. Yes, Wendy’s!! I was pumped about these familiar places. I got online and saw Ryan on g-chat. I was pumped.

me: hey i’m in laredo
Ryan: sup dude
me: back in US
Ryan: oh damn
me: oh shit
Ryan: nice
me: where are you?
Ryan: colorado
me: ah well slow down
i’m getting to albuquerque on tues night i believe
Ryan: ohhh. i guess you’re cycling from albuquerque?
me: cycling and hitching maybe
Ryan: hey i was going to ask: do you enjoy touring alone?
me: i only did it for like a day but yeah it was cool
me: why
Ryan: well like you said, i guess there are no compromises you know
i can go at my own pace. stop to see stuff. and change goals whenever
me: are you trying to say you don’t want me back?
Ryan: hah no. i’m saying would you enjoy going it solo more?

Then I wasn’t pumped. I was expecting a warm welcome back. Maybe some air guitar. I got a cold shoulder. What’s wrong with my road dog? I tried to imagine it if our roles were reversed. If he had come down to Mexico to meet me, I would be pumped. You can easily arrange to solo travel; it’s up to you. Traveling with a close friend is harder to arrange. First of all, there aren’t many “close friends.” Then, getting schedules and plans to work out is really difficult. I was trying to make the stars align, but Ryan didn’t seem to care. I didn’t understand it. I still don’t understand it.

Ryan and I talked on the phone, and tried to work it out. His reaction gave me added regrets for coming back. By the end of the conversation, we exchanged I love you’s, and stirred up some enthusiasm for the reunion. It didn’t feel right though. I didn’t expect to have to work for that.

Hitching a Ride

I headed out of Laredo. I tried hitching a ride at an on-ramp to I-35. Nobody stopped.

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I got to a gas station and asked guys in trucks if they were going to San Antonio. The first truck I spotted had a bike in the back. I got hopeful, a fellow cyclist. The guy was going to San Antonio, but he couldn’t do it because “he had company with him.” That’s okay.

I went into Subway to eat, and I saw him again. He was eating with his wife. After I finished, I went outside and saw his wife take off in a Suburban, and he followed in his truck. Are you serious dude!?! He’s got company?! They were traveling alone, together. With lots of space. A damn truck and Suburban.

I kept asking, zoning in on guys with trucks. Ladies would be spooked. A couple of young guys came out of their truck. This was promising. I asked but they weren’t going to San Antonio. However, they offered to take me up the road a little bit, to a tourist center. They said the tourist center would be a great place to ask. Lots of people would be stopping there on their way to San Antonio.

The tourist center sucked. Pretty barren. The lady inside gave me a bunch of brochures of San Antonio, but I didn’t want that. I needed a damn ride.

I left the tourist center. I biked up the road, on the interstate. I wanted to get to the next gas station to hitch a ride. On the way, as I was biking, I stuck out my thumb. Maybe I could hitch a ride from my bike. Cycling hitchhiker didn’t work.

Up ahead, all the cars were being funneled through an inspection station. I didn’t feel this concerned me, and I had some great momentum, so I hauled ass at 20 mph towards a closed lane to bypass the wait. As I was going through, the border guards yelled out, “whoa whoa whoa.” So I stopped. Damn, that pissed them off. I told them I didn’t think I needed to stop. “What do you think we’re doing here?!” They told me to step away from the bike, and they had the dog sniff my bags. I was clean. I got out of there quick.

I made it to Encinal, TX. Really small town with nothing. But it had a big, active gas station. I started asking. Lots of rejections. Then a couple of Mexican guys came by. They were going to San Antonio. The guy said it was okay with him, but he’d have to ask his buddy. He went into the store. I stood outside, waiting and hoping. Not many options. He came out a few minutes later, “You ready? You want to throw your bike in the back?” Hell yeah dude.

Abel and Juan. I shook their hands, “Mucho gusto.” They rearranged the bed of their truck and helped me load it in there. They were from El Paso, but were doing construction down in Laredo. They were heading to San Antonio to catch a flight to El Paso. Apparently, they were up late the night before, partying until 3 am. Juan, who didn’t speak English, got some “good pussy.” When I told them I got a degree in engineering, they were all, “Ooooh, an engineer,” and “I’m not too good with math. I’m good and lifting stuff.” Abel was joking around about it, but it seemed like he wasn’t proud of his education. He told me he never went to high school; he stopped in the equivalent of 8th grade.

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My host worked at the airport, and lived pretty close by, so it was lucky that Abel and Juan were going there. When we got to the airport, they only had about 30 minutes before their plane left. They helped me get my bike out of the truck, and I got a quick photo before they dashed for the terminal.

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I biked over to Carey’s place. Once again, biking in a big city during Friday rush hour. This time, San Antonio.

Carey and Carrie

I met Carey and his (just-recently-engaged) fiance, Carrie. Carey and Carrie. They seemed a little weirded out at first. I found out it was their first hosting experience  through CouchSurfing. “You’re not going to kill us or anything, right?” hahhaha. “You didn’t bring the swine flu with you, right?” hahahh. That kind of stuff isn’t cool. I understand it, but it puts me on edge. But they warmed up. Later on in my stay with them though, Carey told me he sent his family information on me “… just in case.” That’s something I didn’t need to know. It makes me feel distant.  Like a piece of shit.

Carey and Carrie both work for Southwest airlines. Carey was on disability for a back injury.  He’s a baggage handler. He was home for about a month, watching TV and walking the dog.

Carey had made spaghetti and offered me some. Great. I ran out to the store to pick up some brownies. Treat them to dessert.  It’s tradition at this point.

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There were a bunch of brownies left over, probably half the tray. I started getting ready for bed. A while later, after Carrie had already gone to sleep, I came out as Carey was carrying over a chunk of about 4 brownies in his hand. He’s a guy who prides himself on how much he eats. “I’m a big guy. I eat a lot.” Maybe his baggage handler friends like to talk about how much they eat. I didn’t really mind him eating the brownies.

What was weird though was that the next day, all the brownies were gone. I couldn’t find them anywhere. Dude, I made those, and it would be cool if you had left some for me. Give me the opportunity to have some more of the brownies I made. Oh and by the way, I had to buy the vegetable oil *and* eggs. Typically, our hosts would have that stuff, and Ryan and I would be able to use a 1/4 cup of oil and 1 egg . I had more invested in this batch. And now it was all gone. Damn.

Then, later in the day, when Carrie came home, she complained about Carey taking all the spaghetti. She was hungry. He laughed and made some comment about how much he likes to eat.  Then he got defensive, and tried to show his good side, “Well, why do you think I saved you two brownies?” Generous guy.  What the hell? I didn’t see any brownies. He saved the last two for Carrie.  Hid them from me.  He didn’t consider that I might want some. Selfish as shit. Inconsiderate.

Those were just some of the weird things I noticed. They were both pretty cool though. I had a good time with them. And, they had a bed for me in their guest room.

Remember the Alamo?

I went downtown to see San Antonio. Sweaty as shit. And I had to bike 15 miles. I wore my jeans and Apocalypse Briggs shirt. That shirt is disgusting. It gets all loose, and bells out at the bottom. I rolled up my jeans to get some air circulating. They were all loose, sweat-logged. Dirty, sweaty, loose, ill-fitting t-shirt with rolled-up, sweaty, loose-around-the-knee jeans and biking shoes. Damn, I was ugly. I was embarrassed how ugly I was. I hate that shirt the most. It sucks at keeping its structure. It just becomes a wet rag.

I found the Alamo. Big tourist attraction. Lots of people were out for the day, remembering the Alamo. I wanted a photo, but I couldn’t set up a self-timed shot; it would have been weird among all those people. I saw three cute Asian girls. They were taking photos of each other, giving peace signs. I asked one of them if she could take a photo of me. I thought it would be cool to get a photo with two of them, all of us giving peace signs, but when the time came, I was a flaccid penis. I didn’t have the courage. I looked like shit. They were from Vietnam. I gave a peace sign. Alone.

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I read some stuff on the Alamo. And saw some relics. Pretty boring, really. It was cool to think that the battle happened right there though. We still remember you, Alamo.  Even though you’re really boring, we still remember.

I rode around some more. Downtown San Antonio is really clean and well set-up for tourists. I spent about an hour in the tourist office because I mentioned I might want to take a bus back up to Carey’s. The ladies in there gathered pamphlets, looked online for info, and made phone calls all on account of me having a whim, and then later, not pursuing it. My stupid idea wasted their time and mine. They were too helpful.

I went to the Riverwalk. The famous San Antonio Riverwalk. It sounded beautiful. A natural wonder. I found it, a man-made canal with walkways surrounded by fake boulders. I took a moment, awe-struck by the man-made beauty.

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Then I saw some Mission churches. Something else San Antonio is known for. Not much to say about it though.

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At one point, as I rode back on my bike, a Jeep overtook me, and the driver yelled out, hurriedly, “You know the speed limit. It says share the road.” It happened so quickly that I was lucky to even realize he was saying something to me. And I don’t know what he meant, or if I even heard it right. What I imagine is that this guy was driving behind me for a little bit, thought of something clever to say, and was so nervously excited about delivering it that he totally screwed it up. Horrible execution. The pace of it was nervous and weak. And I was left confused.

I saw a Cici’s pizza, so I stopped and got a buffet for $4.99. I loaded up and left with a big ball of dough and cheese in my gut. Not really “satisfying.”

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Partying with Carey and Carrie

Carey and Carrie were interested in going out. Carrie had done a home pregnancy test, and it looked like it was positive. She had been told through Ouija board that she’d be having twins. We went out to celebrate.

Carey was pumping out the “I’m a typical guy” jokes. Top of his game. And he was quick to tailor it to the pregnancy. “Since you’re pregnant, if you don’t want to gain a lot of that weird weight, just let me know what your cravings are, and I’ll eat them for you.” hahhahaha. Then at the bar, after bemoaning how this would be her last beer, Carey joked, “Hey, I’ll drink for you.” Big guys love to eat and drink. And sleep too, I bet. Big guys are cool!! Their jokes are great, and big.

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As we left the bar, Carey and Carrie became fascinated by a car in the parking lot.  “That car is beautiful.  Man, if I had the money, I would buy that car in a heartbeat.”  They both agreed.  They loved that car.  Slow down guys, you’re getting married and might be having twins.

Rideshare: Austin, TX to Valle de Bravo, Mexico

When Jeff and I headed out, I could finally relax. I was sweaty, stressed, and exhausted. I only had about 3 hours before I was out of the country, so I got on the phone. I bought travel insurance through InsureMyTrip.com that would give me $100,000 of medical insurance for 3 months for $100. Then I called my mom and dad. My mom seemed worried and told me to be safe. It was a “this is it” moment, like we would never speak again. I assured her I would be okay.

I hadn’t really given my dad a whole lot of updates on what I was doing, so when I called I surprised him with “I’m going to Mexico tonight.” He didn’t seem to know that I was going solo either. Although he had been freaked out about me going to Mexico earlier in our communications by email, he didn’t seem too worried on the phone. He just took it as new information.

Then I texted. I texted and texted. I hit a lot of people in my address book.

Crossing the Border

Jeff and I stopped at Walmart in Laredo. I felt like I was already in Mexico. Everyone was speaking Spanish.

I stopped to exchange my US dollars for pesos – 13 pesos for 1 USD – and I gave all my US coins to a bum who forced himself on us to wash the windshield.

Then we took the plunge. We crossed the border. Surprisingly, I didn’t see any blood or dead bodies in the street. It was a quiet, uneventful crossing at 9:30 pm. We got our 6 month tourist cards for $20, and then approached a checkpoint.

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I fell asleep before long. We made it to Monterrey at 12:30 am and got a hotel for the night.

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Monterrey to Valle de Bravo

We got a really late start the next day. After getting our desayuno continentale of coffee, orange juice, and two slices of toast, and using the internet for a while, we got out of there after noon.

We passed through mountains and desert. And lots of Vulkanizadora (tire repair) shacks. It was scenic in a way, a lot like the Southwest, but I was happy I wasn’t on my bike.

There was a traffic jam. Jeff couldn’t cope with it and pulled off to a strip mall of vulkanizadoras. He asked some Mexicans about the slowdown. Construction for 4 km. They told him to take the dirt path that ran parallel to the highway. Gracias. Vamos!

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The road was terrible. An off-roading adventure. I looked over at the highway. Trucks were moving slowly. We were moving slowly. I couldn’t tell which was faster. Jeff had to feel right about it though, “It’s a parking lot over there.”

We got back onto the highway and then we stopped for a car wash. Two guys with rags and buckets full of dirty water.

Jeff got an Aerospace Engineering degree, worked in a company for 3 years, didn’t like it and quit. He’s been doing his hang gliding business ever since. Sounds kind of like me, except I have to start a hang gliding business.

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I asked Jeff a logic puzzle to pass the time. Three light bulbs and three light switches in two different rooms – how can you tell which light switch goes to which light bulb? He got into it. But he was trying to control the situation; I think he felt threatened. He kept declaring, “It’s impossible. I can’t see how you’d do that.” Hey Jeff, I asked you the question, so you can probably guess I’ve got the answer too. I felt bad for him so I gave him a hint. He got close to the answer, but then went back to being furiously unbelieving. I tried to get him back on track. “Jeff, the heat was a good idea. Go with that.” He kept thinking out loud. Then he got the answer as I was nodding him along, and he felt really triumphant, like he was putting a stake in the ground. “That’s how you’d do it!” Although I had a few more logic puzzles, I knew not to try them on Jeff. He doesn’t react well to bad tests of intelligence.

There was another slowdown on the road. It was an overturned bus. Pretty scary.

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We got in to Valle de Bravo at 1 am. Jeff let me stay in the bunkhouse across from his place.

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Austin: Preparing for Mexico

The morning was silent. Heavy, silence. I was in my head. Thinking about how the split with Ryan would be. We took photos before I took off. Then the parting. I didn’t have any great words to say. “Good luck. Be safe.” It was pretty hard though. I don’t do well with those heavy goodbyes. It was emotional.

I rode away to meet up with a CouchSurfer, Trevor, who would host me for a few days while I decide what to do. As I rode, my sad, heavy feelings went away, and I felt a new freedom. I knew I would still miss Ryan but it’s pretty cool going solo. All challenges are yours.

Goodwill Cookware

On my ride down from North to South Austin, I stopped a book shop and got a Spanish phrasebook, then I went into the Goodwill next door. I found some small pots. I wanted something smaller than the MSR one I took with me since I only really want it for when I’m stuck.

I found a good pot for only $3 but it didn’t come with a lid. I found a loose lid that would fit if I bent the edges. I knew they would probably try to charge me for it as a separate item, but I was prepared to fight. When I went to pay, the cashier held up the lid and said, “99 cents cool?” I responded, “I figured that the lid would be included with the pot.” He said I could wait to talk to the manager. I was fine with that. I waited. I called his bluff. He charged me $3 for pot AND lid. Victory!

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I made it over to Trevor’s. His place was pretty barren and he had all his stuff spread out because he was posting it on craigslist for sale. Selling everything before his bike trip from Colombia to Argentina, the long way. It reminded me of my move from Atlanta. Like me, Trevor had had a bunch of roommates come through and leave stuff which now he was selling. He made some great money at it too. Inspiring.

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His roommate had just moved out, so I had my own room. No bed or anything, but I had privacy and a place to spread out my crap to get organized. I laid out my sleeping bag and pad. Sleeping like a squattor.

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Rideshares to Mexico

When I got in to Trevor’s, I checked my email. A few weeks ago I had responded to a rideshare ad on craigslist about being paid $250 to drive a car from Houston to Oaxaca. The guy had just got back to me saying he had another car for me to transport. The timing was incredible. But the situation was suspicious.

I called Tomas about the ride. He was based in Atlanta, a Mexican guy from Oaxaca. I asked him about the details. He said I could drive it down myself, but he would be happy to accompany me if I wanted. I asked him why I was needed then, if he would be willing to come along. Apparently, he needs a US citizen to get a temporary car permit to import the car. So the title would be in someone else’s name but the permit in mine. It’s valid for 6 months, but he would get it canceled about two weeks after I got it down there. He said he’s got a friend in the border control that helps him out with these cancellations. Usually you can only get the permit canceled when you bring the car back to the US. So this is a one-way trip for the car with an illegal cancellation.

Tomas said that we could go down to Oaxaca, and I could stay at his family’s house for a few days, and he could show me around. Sounded pretty good. Except for the risks involved with the permit. Tomas told me he just had a guy from Houston drive a car down, and I could talk to him. His name was Wayne. He was an older guy. I called him and Wayne said that his experience was great. No problems. Tomas was a good guy. Paid all the expenses including a bus and flight back to the US. Tomas’ niche business just needed some US citizens to get the permit and drive, and his friend at border control to bend the rules. I felt pretty good about it after talking to Wayne.

Then I checked craigslist again and found a ride from Austin to Valle de Bravo, just West of Mexico City. The guy said that he was only looking for the company on the ride down. He would pay for gas and tolls. I only needed to be a passenger, and I would only need to pay for food. I liked this better. Less responsibility and free passage. I contacted the guy, Jeff, on Monday. He was leaving Tuesday. I needed to scramble to get things together.

Getting Prepared: Electronics

I needed a digital camera so I looked at them in BestBuy, Walmart, and Target. All about $150 and then an extra $20 for a memory card plus taxes. Ouch. I tried craigslist and contacted a bunch of people. I found a pretty nice Sony Cybershot DSC-W55 7.2 MP for $75. The guy told me it didn’t come with a charger; he wanted to keep it to have a spare. I told him my situation, that I was leaving the US in a hurry, and we struck a deal for everything for $80. Cool. The camera’s great and the video on it is good, so I mailed my video camera and bulky tapes back home.

The iPod I bought on eBay was mailed back last Monday to the Austin address where we’d be staying for a few days. I was anxious for its arrival. It didn’t arrive. On Monday, it still didn’t arrive. Shit, do I have to wait for this thing, and lose the rideshare to Mexico? I got to a computer to contact the eBay seller and he had contacted me to tell me that it had been returned to him in Michigan. He sounded angry, “What happened???” Like it was my fault. USPS messed up, I guess. So I contacted him, told him the situation that I couldn’t stay around, and I would pay him the $5 shipping he spent, and he could repost it on eBay. I still haven’t heard back from him. I hope he’s not a dick about it.

So then I searched craigslist for an iPod. I contacted a guy about his 3rd generation 8 GB one for $70. iPod + Firewire cable. Gaaah, I need a USB cable dammit. Whatever, I’d take it.

He was a really inflexible guy. He was about 10 miles away from where I was and I was on a bike. I wanted to come by that night to pick it up since I would be around that area picking up the digital camera. Nope, 10 pm would be too late. Stupid. So I had to meet him in the morning, early morning. 8 am. I had stayed up until 2 am packing stuff up, and then had to get up at 7 am and leave at 7:30. I was dead tired and biked 10 miles through heavy rush hour traffic. Bastard.

On the phone, I said “Hmmm, only firewire huh? I really need USB cable. What do you say about $60.” Sure. I met up with him, and he handed me the iPod. No cable. I thought he’d include the firewire for $60. Nope. He didn’t even bring it. He wanted to screw me. I handed him the money since I was desperate, and he just walked off. It felt like he was trying to get away with it. No standing around and talking to me. The deal was done and he wanted to get the hell out of there. I felt kind of nervous about it, but the iPod seems to work properly.

So then I had to get a USB cable. I saw one with a power adapter on craigslist for $20. Expensive, but I needed it. USB cables at Walmart are about $20, and the power adapter is even more, so I figured it was a good deal. The guy got back to me and I picked it up immediately.

No headphones though. All this piecemealing for an iPod. Luckily I had brought some iPod headphones with me. I guess I was completing the set.

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My host, Trevor, let me use his computer to load up my iPod. The guy had left a bunch of stuff on there. Lots of ska, reggae, hip-hop, and metal. I left the hip-hop and metal. Then I loaded a bunch of Learn Spanish podcasts. I’ll learn it while I’m biking.

Alcohol Stove

Without Ryan, I didn’t have a stove. I didn’t want to buy one; they’re expensive, and I figured I would rather have local food in Mexico. Part of the cultural experience. My friend, Andrew Brown, who had driven me down from Knoxville to Atlanta to start my trip told me I should look into building an alcohol stove. Really light, inexpensive, and the fuel is readily available.

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I found a great website on how to build the Super Cat. The guy goes into major detail on every aspect of this alcohol stove. It’s great. With denatured alcohol as fuel, the Super Cat boils 2 cups of water in 4 minutes. Materials: 3 oz aluminum can of cat food and a hole puncher. I went to Walmart, spent 50 cents on the can, and $1 on the hole puncher.

Incident at the Post Office

I was in a big hurry to get my stuff done so I could meet up with Jeff and take off South. Sweating it up cycling around town.

I wanted to pare down on the amount of stuff I was carrying. I didn’t need my big pot anymore, or the video camera since I got the digital camera which has pretty good video capability, or the video tapes, etc. I packed it up in a box and brought it to the post office.

Since I’m traveling, I don’t have access to typical household items like tape. So I spotted the roll of Priority Mail tape and used a 12 inch strip to bind the top of the box. I didn’t have a pen either, so I asked one of the clerks, this older Latino guy. He bitched about how they never get their pens back when they let people borrow them. I assured him I would return it.

When my turn came, it was the Latino guy that was available. I put it on the scale and said I wanted parcel post. He told me $21. Damn. For parcel post? He told me that since I used that Priority Mail tape, I had to use Priority Mail to ship it. Parcel post would be $12. I asked him if I could just use duct tape instead since I had some with me. No, you don’t want to use duct tape. I suggested I could just cover the Priority Mail tape with the duct tape. No, I can’t do that. I have to take off the Priority Mail tape. I can’t use their tape. Come on man! Have mercy on me. I’m in trying to get to Mexico. It’s 12 inches of tape.

I didn’t have time to buy tape somewhere, and I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to pay $9 for 12 inches of Priority Mail tape either. I used the duct tape that was wrapped around my wrench handle. Miraculously it was the exact length I needed to cover up the Priority Mail strip.

I got back into line. I didn’t want to get the Latino guy again. I shouldn’t have told him my scheme of covering it with duct tape. I was anxious how this lottery would turn out. I got to the top of the line. The Latino guy disappeared into the back to find something. Then the Black guy came available. I jumped forward, eager to be helped by him. Then a guy stuck in from the side and the Black guy held his hand out to me. I guess this sneak guy had been helped before and got priority. Shit. I was sweating, hoping Latino guy wouldn’t reappear to help me. Russian roulette. Fatal game of chance. The lady being helped by the Asian guy wouldn’t move her ass. “Okay, so what number do I call?” “Mam, you call the number I gave you and they can help you out.” This conversation went on and on.

Finally, she left, and I sprang forward to the Asian guy. Phew!! I put my duct taped box up on the scale, told him Parcel Post, and then the Latino guy appeared. I was expecting him to sabotage me, “Hey, check to see if there’s Priority Mail tape under the duct tape. This guy’s trying to pull a fast one on us, using Government tape for free. Who does he think he is?!” I paid my $12 and got out of there quick.

Mission Complete

After the post office, I stopped by a bike shop to use their chain whip to get my cassette lockring loosened. I didn’t want to bring a chain whip with me. They’re big. I figured that if it was loose enough, I could use my own chain and the cassette tool to do the job. Just brace the chain. I’d only need it if I broke a spoke in my rear wheel, on the cassette side.

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I got to Jeff’s place and helped him pack it up. We loaded my bike in the back, and we headed off.