Sunday, November 28, 2010


I am in Veracruz Mexico now. Some of this trip is by bike, some by bus, some by train, some by boat. I could just fly, but this way I get to see the friends I met last trip, see places along the way, feel the accomplishment and physical gain from biking, etc. Next stop is Cancun and Playa del Carmen. The climate conference starts tomorrow. While I am not officially apart of it, I want to witness the alternative conference organized by the Mexican farmers and network with those officially apart of it. And go to the beach! I haven't been to a world-class beach in years. So I am excited about that. I have a friend in Playa del Carmen who works at a hotel, so I will be posting up there for a few days, too. Then my rough plan is to bike Southward to Panama, boat to Colombia, bike to Venezuela, and then Manaus, Brazil in the Amazon. Boat to Belem, Brazil, and bike to Natal, Brazil. Big trip with lots of possibilities. I am taking it step by step. So far so good, very smooth sailing. I am currently staying at a hotel in Veracruz now, owned by some friends I met last trip.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brownsville Bike Mechanic Helps Out!

Noe Valles of Brownsville is the city's best bicycle mechanic. Though it is no longer his full time job, he has a bicycle workshop at his house and he donates his time to work on bikes of the local River Rockets cycling club, and he put in time and materials to help out my project. I came to him to tweak the handlebar set-up to address the pain I experienced between my shoulderblades after my 100 mile ride. He changed out my stem to arrive at a lower, closer-in position. We also cleaned the right Ultegra brifter and installed new shifter cables. Thank you, Noe, for your time, energy and materials! If you are cycling tourist passing through Brownsville, be sure to look up Noe and say hi! Reach him via River Rockets.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Kingsville, TX to Harlingen, TX

Hey All,

Yesterday I biked 101 miles from Kingsville, TX to Harlingen, TX over a large stretch of land with not much development since it is part of the "King Ranch", a privately owned wildlife preserve. The great thing was that the wind was at my back yesterday. The three riding days prior to that, I was riding against a steady wind, but yesterday, the wind was finally back in my favor.
Highlights of the day included meeting a themed blanket vendor, and by that I mean that each of his blankets was like a large poster--with a theme like Marilyn Monroe or Batman, etc. He was a great guy, from Guanajuato, and the first thing he said to me was, "Who sent you?" I said, "What do you mean?" He said, "Someone sent you here. You wouldn't be traveling like this if no one sent you." I said, "I sent myself." He said, "It costs lots of money to do what you do." And he made the Mexican gesture for money which is made by making your thumb and index finger wrap around an imaginary credit card. I said, "No, it does not cost lots of money." Partly because I know from experience that it is not smart to reveal one has money, and partly because of the truth of knowing how to travel frugally. I got some good photos of myself, the vendor (Enrique, "El Cochero"/"Blanket Man") and the state trooper who stopped to let me know that the next service station was 60 miles ahead to I should make sure I had enough water.

The next highlight was 60 miles later, which went by quickly due to the wind, in Raymondville!, TX. I ran into the three blokes, one of whom is a creative painter and sign maker. They were inside a cluttered warehouse structure, smoking dope, I could smell it. But they came out and talked when they saw me looking at their artwork--bikes and home-made trailers, signs, paintings, etc. The guy had made a trailer-wagon that looks like a old-fashioned car made out of plastic and a trashcan, a radio, speakers, bike wheels, a tool box, complete with an ad for his business, all trailing behind a regular bicycle.

He ended painting my website on my utility deck and a Brazilian flag on my handlebar bag for free. Muy buena onda/very good vibe. Oh, and their puppy was supercute.

Later, I met up with my CouchSurfing host, Wesley of Harlingen. He is a marathon
runner and a cyclist, and he rode out to meet me a few miles outside of town.

I took a rest day and read a book, and felt out Harlingen, walking around, stretching out my legs. Tomorrow, I will bike the 30 miles to the border town, Brownsville, and stay there a few days taking care of some business before entering Mexico, most likely by bus to Veracruz. Business to include installing a front rack on the bike, perhaps exchanging my camera for a waterproof/shockproof one, etc., visiting the zoo, and South Padre Island, etc., feeling out Brownsville, listening to folks about Mexico, Matamoros, etc. Looking forward.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Three Rivers, TX to Kingsville, TX*

*Click on heading to view photos.
Ok, wow, today was awesome. 80 miles, made it to Kingsville. I kicked up my game; I now treat my riding like a sport, and I am an athlete. It may seem a bit strange; like obviously I was always engaging in a sport. But not really; that is not how I saw it until today. It really has to do with workrate and heartrate. Until today, I really mostly focused on kinda riding-as-transportation, and not really doing it competitively or aggressively. Biking to get there, and not really focusing on it as an athletic activity. That meant that my workrate was not very high and my heartrate did not get that high. But at some point during the day today, I fell into the posture of riding aggressively as sport. I think it happened as I was listening to the song, "Remember the Name" by Fort Minor. It had to do with working hard and distinguishing oneself. Just riding to get there was not distingishing myself. I needed to work hard, and pull ahead. That led to thinking about being an athlete, engaging in sport. I thought about other times in my life that I have been focused and competitive. I remembered in 7th or 8th grade when I organized a table tennis tournament with 16 classmates; I focused hard and won the tournament and took home the prize.
The wind was against me again, for the third day, for most of the day. When the wind is at my back, as it was from Austin to San Antonio, I feel like Super Man on speed (but seriously, don't do speed!); and when I am going against the wind, I still feel like Super Man! I just get this burst of energy and I start going like 17-18 or so miles an hour, and that is pretty good when you are loaded down with at least 60 lbs of stuff and going against the wind! Eventually, I have to take it easy and bring my workrate down a bit to rest. Then my energy builds again and I turn it up again. It helps when a good song pops on my playlist.
Let's jump to the best story of the day. It is the story of how I got lodging tonight. And these are always the greatest stories, I think, in my trips and perhaps most cycle tourists' trips. Here's how it went. Yesterday, I went on and found just one couchsurfer listed for Kingsville, TX. I requested to couchsurf with him, and he eventually replies, indicating that he now realized that his profile was out of date and that he had since moved to Corpus Christi. He said his couch in Corpus was game for surfing, but in Kingsville he could try to see if some of his friends might host. As I neared Kingsville, I asked him if he could see if he could just line up a place to shower, to get internet, and a place in the backyard to camp. He tried all his friends and it turned out they all had either moved or were out of town. He racked his brain for somewhere I might shower, and he remembered the boxing gym at which he used to train. He messaged me the location and suggested I try that, stating that the gym was open for another half hour, that the coach there is a super guy, and that their are Spartan accommodations including a shower and a bed. I found the gym, met the coach, and the pieces all fell into place wonderfully. As collateral, I gave the coach my passport, and in exchange I set me up with the shower, a towel, a bedroom, and the key to the gym so I could come and go as needed! And he suggested for internet the Burger King 3 blocks away! Super set city. To recap, the connection chain was as follows: CouchSurfing member John Casey formerly lived in Kingsville-->moved to Corpus Christi-->wanted to host, and if not, help in anyway he could-->racks his brain and comes up with the boxing gym and coach-->gym is still open for another half-hour after getting into town-->I find the gym-->coach Jaime Cantu is present-->meeting goes well-->facilities available-->a deal is made-->PJ is hooked up! I gotta give it up to CouchSurfing. It has really come into its own. The communities and the connections it creates are phenomenal. All these stories highlight a combination of trust, generosity and resourcefulness of humans that is truly inspiring. I will have to recount the stories of each of my previous hosts, all of which are equally interesting, if not as surprising. In the interest of getting this posted and going to bed, I will stop there.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

San Antonio, TX to Jourdanton, TX

First full journal entry, though I will go back and make entries for the three other days I biked so far this trip. Today was a good day in that I made progress. I got out to a late start as I had to go to the post office to pick up a package I had mailed General Delivery to San Antonio. There is only one post office in San Antonio that accepts General Deliveries, and that is the Main Office, which is the one in the Northeast on Perrin Beitel and Wurzbach Parkway. An employee at another post office, the one on McCullough street, over the phone, told me that his office accepted and processed general deliveries. So I had the item I ordered on Amazon, a backup battery for my android phone, sent "General Delivery" to his post office. I kept checking there and they said nothing had arrived. But the usps tracker indicated it had arrived in San Antonio. Later I realized that they indicated the zip code it arrived to, found out the nearest post office to that zip code, and realized it was the same post office that one of the McCullough employees told me was the main office and the only one that accepsts general deliveries. So I put 2 and 2 together and surmised that postal employees had the package delivered to the main office instead of the one I specified since it said General Delivery. I went to the office to pick it up, and at first they could not find it! Well, eventually the higher ups found it and realized it was their fault because they had scanned it both received and delivered. It should not have been scanned "delivered" until the customer, me, picked it up. Anyway, after I picked it up, I headed to my couchsurfing hosts' house, packed up, wrote in their guest book, and then headed out South.
I revisited the River Walk a bit, and then I went to a bike shop to pick up a spare tandem length shifter cable. I wanted a multi-tool, but they were out. He told me a new bike shop opened up South, on my route, so I resolved to stop there and check to see if they had a multi-tool. A pleasant surprise was in order. The shop was not only open, and they had a multi-tool, but the owner was present and he hooked me up with a prodeal on the multi-tool, and threw in a free waterbottle and cage (I wanted to exchange mine because it was one designed for a very large, like 32 oz Gatorade, bottle. Dude rocked. Garrett or Jared I think was his name. Thank you, again, man, if you are reading this. All all you other folks, patronize this guy if you ever go to San Antonio. The shop is called S.A. Cycles, or S.A. Bicycles. It is on South St. Mary's road, just before the underpass where it changes to Roosevelt Blvd.
Okay, I finally got heading South, after he hooked me up with a big cup of fruit because, "I think you have a lot farther to go than me and can use this more; I only live 2 blocks from here!"
Yeah, so I headed South, and then after a bit, I wanted to charge up some more. The wind was blowing hard in my face. I sat down in the shade. I put some sun block on, and I whipped out the two PB&J sandwiches I made earlier and I took those in, and drank some water. Soon I was back on the road. After about 10 miles of riding into the wind, I was hungry for more food. Stopped at MickyD's and had a grilled club chicken sandwich. Not bad. Was $5. Loaded up my waterbottle at their drink station with Powerade. Blue. Chugged and refilled. Then headed out for some more up against the wind, uphill riding. Cadence. Pretend like you are in an excercise bike. Doesn't matter how fast you go, just put out the high amount of power that you can when you have the right cadence (~70-90), you are in the appropriate gear for the resistance you face, and you are at a good workrate. The miles went by slowly but surely, as I listened to my music and I did a Portuguese lesson and an Spanish lesson (Pimsleur, which I love and highly recommend for language learning, especially when you are biking since you can listen and respond out loud as you bike along, and that is the main core of the learning process of Pimsleur). I eventually sat down in the shade to rest, chug some Powerade, and change the music. Got back on and plugged the last 10 miles to Pleasanton. Looked for a motel. Eventually stopped at one, the price was $40/night but no internet so I kept going. Forgot my helmet at a gas station, went 4 blocks before I realized and went back to retrieve it. Continued on and checked out a total of four more motels and they all were completely booked, no vacancies! Saw some Halliburton employees at one, truckers at another. Various things draw people past these towns and to them. I made it to Jourdanton from Pleasanton, looking for a motel, after dark. My lights are pretty good, so no real issue. In Jourdanton, I ate at the Mexican restaurant I ate at four years ago on my trip from DC to Chiapas, which originally had the intent of making it to Brazil. The waitress of the restaurant said she remembered me from four years ago! I was quite impressed and felt loved, cared-for, etc. The food was delicious and she didn't charge me for it! I gave her a $4 tip on a $6 meal:)
Then I checked in with the firestation next door to see if they would put me up. Pretty much all the motels were booked, I told them. I was hosted by four different fire stations during my trip from DC to Chiapas, and folks such as David Kroodsma have had great luck with firestations hosting them as touring cyclists. They said I could camp under a tin-roof covered area, and he would let the cops know I had permission and so to not bother me.
I thanked them for the offer. I tried a motel/hotel I had not yet tried, Holiday Inn, and they, too, were booked, but let me use the bathroom and the internet from the lobby. And so that is what is happening now--I amd in the Holiday Inn lobby as I write.