MOBILE to TALLAHASSEE: Mullets – animal noises – thunder – and a little red dot

Thanks to all donors so far, and for those who haven’t please consider. All funds go to the 4 nonprofits.  www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/new-beginnings-work

MOBILE: The friendly folks at the Trek Store tuned up my bike and gave me a safe route to downtown Mobile. Once there, I met a woman named Mareike who bike tours with her husband. She told me that in Germany bicycles are designed with many safety features like built-in lights powered by the wheel movement. She graciously let me use the rest room in her office building. The next thing I know I’m in an industrial area for several hours – broken up concrete, trains on both sides of me, streets with no names. Hard-hatted men helped me navigate through the meandering gravel and bumpy roads til I finally made it north about 9 miles to go over the only bridge in Mobile bicycles are allowed on (on the map above of my route you’ll see that lollipop shape on the top – took me 20 miles out of my way).

East of Mobile, traveling across the Mobile Bay Area was beautiful, miles and miles of roadway with a good bike lane and water on both sides. Check out the USS Battleship Alabama. I would have stopped at that park but I was already 2 hours behind schedule and the day was hot and sticky. I made it safely to FAIRHOPE, AL with a travel tip from the clerk at the hotel (whom I called since I was running late).

The next day, south of FAIRHOPE, I stopped at a gas station for a break and had a discussion with a delivery guy who asked why I was cycling. I told him about New Beginnings Work. His skepticism turned to support when he realized all the benefits of programs that help those released from prisons and jails and benefit society as a whole.

Route 59 in GULF SHORES, AL is not good for cyclists. I took a convoluted safer way as I left the motel to get to the shore road, dozens of miles of a road with bike lanes, the ocean to my right.

At the ALABAMA-FLORIDA state line, I bumped into the Mullet Fest – people (yes, some with mullets) throw the mullet (fish) across the state line – attended by thousands and lasting for days. Yes, indeedy. No more to say about that.

PENSACOLA. Thanks, Diane and Earl for opening up your home to me for a few days and showing me a bit of the town as well. Diane joined me for 4 days of cycling and it’s been nice to have the company and the laughs. In addition, WEAR TV in Pensacola interviewed us and representatives of REAP (Re-Entry Alliance of Pensacola). Here is the clip they aired.

http://weartv.com/news/local/advocate-bikes-across-us-raising-eentry-awareness

Kevin and Vinnie of REAP have many positive stories of those helped with re-entry from prisons and jails – people leading productive lives, helping others, running their own businesses. Inspiration!

The ride to DESTIN was mostly beautiful, with bike lanes, some jittery sidewalks, and an enjoyable ice cream break plus a walk over the Okaloosa Bridge (the water really is that blue). Packing up and leaving the room in the morning, I was so obsessed about a lost bike strap, that in the process of looking for it I covered up and then left behind my snack bags and wet-wipes. Diane and I have that in common – we lose things in plain sight and spend way too much time looking for them (won’t give details about sun screen and single sock)! Of course, the bike strap showed up in Diane’s bag when we unpacked the next night.

The next day, though, to PANAMA CITY was way too “traffic-y” and stressful, especially knowing a long bridge lay in wait. Sure enough, crossing the Hathaway Bridge was not fun- the photo shows its age. (Come on, America, let’s fix these old bridges please!). Diane and I zigged and zagged through Panama City to get to the hotel since there are no bike lanes in town and the rush of cars continued, forcing us (when we could find them) on to rickety sidewalks again. The Comfort Inn was like an oasis – we devoured the entire container of iced lemon water in the lobby and laughed somewhat hysterically throughout the evening about the harrowing events of that day.

Riding to MARIANNA was much more peaceful, and included views of magnolia trees, scenic pastures, and free ice at a guns and ammo gas station. Yes, there are gas stations that are arsenals of weapons, something I’d not seen before, with people who wished us safe travels. I rode in a rain storm for the first time, though we took shelter for a few minutes when it was heavy. And I survived.

But, creatures decided to attack. Not really. In one quiet stretch of wooded roadways, Diane was way ahead of me. I heard the sound of some kind of animal running in the woods keeping up with me. Of course I thought “mountain lion” even though we were miles away from their habitat. (The hotel clerk that evening said it was probably a fox.). Next, at a bend in the road, dogs on both sides of the road were barking. On our side, a pit bull barked and jumped up but I thought no big deal since the yard was fenced. No it wasn’t. He pops out at the end as Diane’s bike passes. A burst of adrenalin hits me and I zoom ahead of her muttering “I don’t mean to be rude, Diane, but I’m going ahead of you,” leaving her to fend for herself. Rude? How about cowardly? She’s faster than me so I knew she’d be fine and the dog didn’t follow. I couldn’t stop laughing at myself for miles.

Yesterday’s ride to QUINCY/TALLAHASSEE area was beautiful on old route 90. It was peaceful with moderate hills and generally good bike lanes (with surprisingly little broken glass, usually the norm on many bike lanes). Then we got to “the bridge” – the Chattahoochee Bridge – where you are basically going down into a gorge and then back up, and I can tell you the up was impossible for me. I had to walk my bike up around 10-15 minutes. We learned at the bait and tackle gas station (yes, they all have themes it seems) that others have been conquered by that incline as well. After a nice break, we headed out of Chattahoochee with the sound of thunder behind us. Needless to say, we wanted to beat the storm (particularly the lightning) and except for a few sprinkles, we did.

We arrived at Quincy, outside of Tallahassee, where Diane left her car so she can return home. However, the road to the house where her bike was required going up a gargantuan hill – one that I wasn’t going to attempt and even Diane decided to walk it rather than bike it. This final image  of the road that Diane trudged up while I waited by the bikes shows her as a little red dot (her cycling clothing). I watched that dot slowly make its way to the top of that roller coaster hill with fingers crossed that she wouldn’t tip backwards and roll down. Seriously, it looked like it was an 80 degree incline. Whatever it was, she got the car, we made it to Tallahassee with the bikes in the back, and had pizza. Phew. 200 miles in 4 days with her — 520 for me since Lubbock (think I’m approaching 900 soon).
Special thanks to Diane’s co-worker Katie who showed up at the first 3 hotels and left us home-made manicotti, salads, desserts, water and snack foods. You’re the best, Katie!

Peace out!

Winds, water and words

 

This last week has been a humbling experience – with regard to the weather and the goal I have. I’ve learned I have to be acutely aware of the weather and that wind is a foe. I’ve learned that everyone I talk to about New Beginnings Work understands and thinks giving a helping hand to those released from prisons and jails is good. Getting donations, though, is harder, so if you can, please go to this link and consider a donation-all the funds will be divided equally among the 4 non profits.   www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/new-beginnings-work

Because of weather and terrain, I hired a driver from Uber to take me from Lubbock to Austin, then rented a car to drive myself to New Orleans 2 days later. I was able to cycle around northeast New Orleans. Damage from the hurricane is still apparent – large empty lots, dilapidated streets, damaged empty buildings. Along a canal I saw a number of people fishing. I tried to find a way to get to the trail on the levee for Lake Pontchartrain (rebuilt and reinforced) and asked a woman – Mabel – how. She lamented that there are now no steps up to it like there used to be so people can’t easily stroll, fish and so forth without going several miles to find an entrance. I went to the French Quarter the next day by bus and got a nice walk in, enjoying the music in the streets from the bars and restaurants. (I’ve heard “Elvira” twice – once at a karaoke bar in NOLA, the second time while cycling past a biker’s bar in Alabama).

As I headed east from New Orleans to Bay St. Lewis, the dreaded headwind was there. After about 20 miles I came upon Rigolets Bay and Seafood. Shanna was so friendly and wouldn’t let me pay for my peanuts and soda and offered to refill my water bottles. She and Bryant both talked about how the wind kept all the fishermen out that day (except for 1). I have something in common with people who fish. We don’t like wind! Shanna told me of many bridges ahead over many bayous and I rode for easily another 20 miles or so in isolation with trees at times blocking some of the wind.

When I left Bay St. Louis the next morning, an intimidating bridge awaited. At least it had a walking/bike lane. The wind was fierce and it was drizzling. As I hit Pass Christian and Gulfport, I knew I couldn’t make it to Moss Point since it took me 4 hours to go 23 miles (should have taken about 2 hours with no wind). I saw Maryland tags on a car and stopped to talk to the couple sitting on a bench looking at the Gulf of Mexico – a couple from Chestertown on a road trip. We chatted for a while and they were interested in New Beginnings Work, knowing nothing about prisons and rehabilitation programs. As we talked more, they became very supportive of the mission. Energized a bit by the conversation, I lasted another 90 minutes or so before calling a cab.

Yesterday was a short day – under 40 miles – and headwinds of 10-12 mph were manageable. Katy at a Chevron in Big Point Mississippi told me how to avoid a bridge closure. I passed a herd of cows/steers and got the look. 2 tiny dogs tried to chase me (really?). About 25 miles later at a tiny rest area in Alabama, Justin approached me. He was curious about my loaded up bicycle. (He and his wife are cyclists). After talking a bit, I found another believer in the benefits of these rehabilitation programs. One person at a time, one day at a time, the journey will continue even though I am feeling a bit beaten back by the weather.

I’m changing my route to Pensacola, though, staying more inland. Gulf breezes are only pleasant when one is on the beach or strolling.

Beauty, wild winds and kind people

Over 6 days the journey has had ups and downs (couldn’t resist). Leaving Albuquerque was joyous since there was a great send-off with representatives from Wings for Life and Crossroads for Women and a few more friends.

East of Albuquerque Emily joined me for 2 days, each of which involved a lot of elevation – over 2100 feet one day, just under 2000 the second – hard for me with all the bike weight. On day 2 we met a couple from San Antonio TX – both cyclists – and they were interested in the story of New Beginnings Work (that’s them in the photo with me). On day 3, which I call “tiny black bug” day, I rode from Vaughn to Ft. Sumner. I was pretty much alone with my thoughts and music in my head as there were only occasional vehicles. Animals, especially cows and steers, stopped and stared. At the halfway point, in Yeso, I had lunch sitting on a wobbly stool that I’m carrying and wondering what this ghost town was like when there were people.

In Ft. Sumner, a small town but with many closed businesses, it was late and there was no place to replenish water. The kind manager of the Super 8 loaded up all my water containers from his 5 gallon water bottle. Tap water in the southwest often tastes metallic and I didn’t want to ride back 2 miles to get water at an Allsup’s gas station.

I was panicked that night about the wind forecast (that included 40 mph gusts) for Day 4 so left Ft. Sumner at 7 am, arriving at my next destination – Clovis NM – around 2, with my lunch break in Melrose at another Allsup’s (this time, with people, not ghosts). An Albuquerque family asked me where I was going. The mother, Sheila, told me that her family offered shelter to a woman who had been released from jail and had no where to go so she went to the closest church (Sheila’s church). With this family’s help, AA/NA meetings and the support of the church, she turned her life around and is now in the medical profession with her own family.

This story is being told over and over by people benefited by those who reach out and programs like the ones for which I am raising funds.

Day 5 was a ride from Clovis to Littlefield TX. Trains, grain silos and a lot of open space still dominated. This was a day of flat roads, minimal winds and temps in the 70s and I let my guard down about checking out weather for Day 6 (to Lubbock). I sent out press releases to Lubbock reporters and on Day 6 I heard back from 2 of them. Meanwhile, as I packed up my bike to head to Lubbock, I then looked at the forecast and saw there were terrible winds. What? Why had I not paid attention to the weather? I guess the previous day’s pleasantness made me complacent.

What a hard day this was. Winds were around 15 to 20 mph from my left side and front, so at least I didn’t have to worry about being blown toward the traffic. But there were gusts of 35 mph and I also learned that when 18-wheelers pass in wind like this, bicycles lurch a bit forward then sideways (to the right) for a few seconds. Not fun.

When I heard a pop sound on my front tire, I slowed down to lean forward to see if there was any debris in the tire.

A car slows down next to me so I figured it was a Good Samaritan realizing I might have a tire problem. I look to my left and there is a camera in my face and a smiling person. Little did I know the reporter from one station would drive out to catch “live action” footage. I caught up with them 3 hours later at the first place I could take a break (should have only taken me 2 hours to get there, but the wind….). There was a second reporter waiting for me at the motel when I arrived around 5 (3 hours later than I expected).

Here are the links to the interviews:

http://www.everythinglubbock.com/news/klbk-news/67-year-old-woman-biking-cross-country-fundraising-for-programs-that-help-the-formerly-incarcerated

http://www.kcbd.com/story/31666791/67-year-old-nm-cyclist-stops-in-lubbock-as-part-of-cross-country-ride-to-break-cycle-of-incarceration

The day after these interviews aired, I ran errands on the bike and got a few honks and waves (saw no other cyclists and I guess I’m pretty identifiable), some handshakes, and a donation from a couple of $3 for whom I knew this amount was all they could spare. Today I learned this hotel where I’m staying is comping me one night and put the second interview on their website! Kind people all around.

If you are interested in donating, here is the link: http://www.generosity.com/community-fundraising/new-beginnings-work

Tomorrow – 10 am – the journey begins!

New Beginnings Work is “on the road” beginning Saturday, April 2 at 10 AM. Supporters can meet at University of New Mexico’s Duck Pond.  ThLprelaunche Duck Pond is west of the Zimmerman Library.  You can head north on Yale from Central about 1/3 of a mile and you’ll see the Duck Pond on your left.  Representatives from Wings for Life and Crossroads for Women (the two Albuquerque organizations for whom funds are being raised) will be there to support the launch of this campaign! THANKS TO ALL THE DONORS WHO HAVE DONATED PRE-LAUNCH.  Much appreciated!

I believe during this journey I’ll find other supporters who believe that, as I put it, new beginnings do indeed work.  Wings, Crossroads and the two Baltimore organizations – Goodwill and Volunteers of America – provide the support, health care, education, and skills training to enable those released from prisons and jails to lead successful lives. This helps them – and society as a whole benefits as well.