Sunday, 30 November 2014

These colours don't run

By Mark

After crossing into Texas the weather deteriorated even further with the mercury dropping with each mile covered until we had just had enough. Our plan was to camp in a state forest but it was not going to happen in this weather. So we headed straight for the nearest motel. We were wet all the way through and were in need of warming up. We found a cheap enough motel with a big warm comfy bed and endless hot water!

After making good use of all amenities we stuffed our faces with snacks and enjoyed the comfort of a warm dry place to lay our weary cold bones. Our neighbours seemed to be the local drug dealers with cars coming and going all evening even to the point of being woken up by them at 4am the following morning. We did however wake to lovely blue skies but the temperature was low so we rugged up for our ride to Austin.

The ride to Austin was noting noteworthy, we left too late from our motel room wanting to get our monies worth but it back fired when we arrived  smack bang in the middle of peak hour traffic in Austin. We had lined up another place to stay through ADV Rider Tent Space and were met by Paul, the friend of our host Luke who was also visiting. Sorry for taking your bed Paul! Our time in Austin was spent getting some new spares for the bikes, a new water proof jacket (could have done with that the day prior) and changing brake pads. Sadly we did not get to see much of the city but our host said that really there was not a whole lot to see and being mid week no gigs to go to either which Austin is meant to be well known for - its live music. We enjoyed Luke and Paul's company and of course Bruce, Paul's very friendly dog. We had decided that we would keep heading south west down to Big Bend National Park after Luke saying it was well worth a visit, that and also because it should be much warmer.

After two lovely warm nights in a dry warm bed we were out on the road again finally finding some twisty sections of road. As far as the riding here in the southern states goes it has been kind of boring with long straight stretches that have been wearing us down and our rear tyres very quickly. Finally we were in the Texas Hill Country with a few twists and turns to keep us happy for a lovely day's ride. We have been using another website lately called and it has become very helpful so we put it to good use staying at a 24 hr rest areas among other places. At this one particular 24hr site there were a few signs saying that you can stay 24hrs but there is to be no erecting of any tents or shelters, great! Well we paid no attention to it and went and set up camp behind some trees way up the back and had a peaceful night's sleep apart from the local police doing a lap of the rest area shining their flood light looking for anyone who might be up to no good or soliciting of one's body! We we were doing neither.

We kept heading south and were happy to keep getting beautiful blue skies where ever we went including our next stop just outside a small city, Del Rio on the border with Mexico. Just outside the town was a free campground by the lake, well it used to be by the lake but as the years have passed the level has dropped to the point you can no longer see the water hence the reason it is now free to stay. It was a well set up place and we had it all to ourselves bar a few local deer wandering through. We had ourselves a lovely camp fire to keep ourselves warm that night and we also got a visitor by a local cop. He was friendly though, just wanted to check out our fire was OK and to ask a few questions as to what we were up to. We went to bed with clear skies and awoke the following morning to what one could only describe as being right in the middle of a huge cloud, at least it was not raining. One thing we have noticed since getting down near the Mexican border is the amount of border patrol vehicles patrolling the roads along with a few border patrol check points which we always have to stop for and show our passports.

After more long boring rides in outback Texas we finally made it to Big Bend NP. Little did we know we had arrived at one of the busiest times of the year, Thanksgiving! Many people take a long weekend or the whole week off and even some schools even give kids the week off. So trying to get a campsite was not so easy as many of the campsites were already reserved. We intended on going bush and staying in the back country camp spots but were hoping for a shower first. Little did we know that was not an option so paying $14 a night for a patch of grass was a joke really. That night we met a young Aussie, Dan who arrived just after us on his ole XL600 loaded up high. We got chatting about his travels and he was on a mission to travel through all 50 states and had only been on his bike for the past 4 days but seemed to be loving it. It was great meeting and chatting with him and we exchanged places to stay and possible routes to take. He had met some locals a couple of days earlier who had taken him under their wing, also trying to convert him into getting rid of his bike and buy a cruiser, we warned him against such a thing and glad to hear that he also was not interested. I must say that I am so happy to be here on this trip with my best friend and girlfriend but boy, after meeting Dan who's travelling at a tender age of only 19, I really wish I was out in the world at his age. I wish him all the best for his future travels.

After our first night in the 'organised' campground we headed for the ranger station to get our 'back country' camping permit. This is where we learnt you cannot just go pick a place to camp and set up. You have to pick a place, reserve it and hope that it is available. Well we had no idea of where to stay or how long we would stay. After a little help the ranger sorted us out with a few places but was very sure to warn us of the many dangers in the park, was it the chance of being eaten by a bear, ravaged by a mountain lion or poisoned to death by a rattle snake but the most dangerous thing? The Mexicans! Transporting drugs and guns. He really made it a point to tell us that we had to be extra careful in these back country camp spots as they run along the Rio Grande which divides the US and Mexico. We were also told to contact authorities if we saw anything out of the ordinary. Well, lucky for us we had no such problems. Unless we had to watch out for the 'Mexican Singing Jesus' sitting on his rock on the other side of the river singing to the tourists on the American side. We did see a few Mexicans crossing the river on a regular basis to set up their little 'stores' so to speak selling hand made souvenirs of local fauna etc. They sit on the other side keeping watch somewhere in the bushes and just leave a small container as an honesty system to potential buyers. There are however many signs in the park telling visitors NOT to buy these souvenirs. But everyone needs to make a living some how right?

We finally did get our shower, or one could say a sand blast type shower where it feels the skin is being ripped from your body from the high pressure of water streaming out from the shower head. At least it got rid of the worst of the smell. We set off on the back roads for the next 2 nights of blissful camping away from the hoards. We were on the look out for the dangerous Mexicans but had no run ins with them. Our only problem was not treading on the cute little Kangaroo rats running around our camp looking for food. Later in the night we were awoken by the howls of Coyotes, but again no dangerous Mexicans. We hit up the local hot springs to soak the weary bones before heading further west into the park on the 4x4 roads. It was a nice change to the long straight roads we were getting used to here. Even better there was no traffic out here and the weather was beautiful. We had another peaceful night's sleep right out in the middle of the park with a spectacular view over the mountains and not a soul around for miles. No mountain lions, no bears and no dangerous gun toting Mexicans.
While there we met a couple from Houston on their two BMWs and we had a good long chat with them and hopefully we inspired them to take the jump and go for a big bike trip, they seemed pretty keen when they heard our stories anyway. As always we got asked: Do you carry protection? Our answer as usual was: No, we don't need a gun! They seemed puzzled by this. We asked them if they were carrying a gun with them right now; Yes, they had one handgun in their panniers and another one back at their tent! They somehow thought that a day trip in a national park required a gun! Better watch out for those Mexicans...which they warned us about too. Further up the road we stopped at a small store and the second Mark stepped in the door a little boy looks at him and says: Don't shoot me! He thought Mark looked like a special forces soldier! It's all about the guns...

With time running out every day to get to the west coast we gave up our last night stay in the park and instead started heading north west again. We had a great time in the park and would recommend anyone heading by that way to check out Big Bend. We had heard about this town Fort Davis that was meant to have some old buildings to check out from the old wild west days. Well, we were quite disappointed when we arrived in town as there was not much to see at all, at least it was on our route and there was no detour just for that. We had noticed however the considerable drop in temperature as the day progressed and the further north we travelled. We had another free 24hr rest area to camp in that night and oh boy was it cold! We froze our arses off just trying to cook and went to bed early wearing numerous layers which still was not enough. What made it worse we were camped in a small valley so we would not even get the sun on us until after 9am. After a very restless sleep we dragged ourselves from our sleeping bags to see what it was like outside as it had been of of the coldest night I can remember on the trip. No snow but all our water in our water bottles and camelbaks was frozen, the alcohol for our stove would not even light so we could make a cuppa and with no sun it was misery with my toes frozen and with each step I took it felt like they would snap off my feet. Thankfully the water in the bikes was not frozen. We later found out that the temperature had been -4 degrees Celsius!

We also checked the temperature of all the other places we were headed and it was not looking good. Every place showed the temp to be below 4 degrees at night. Not so good when you are camping in a summer tent. We checked this at a McDonalds where we sometimes stop to use their free wifi to keep up to date and plan ahead. We got chatting with a woman who was on her break and she talked about how she liked motorcycles and that her husband used to take her for rides on the back of his Harley but not any longer as she is now too big to get on the back. She then mentioned something about some new super pill that is meant to help you lose weight by turning your fat into something else! Maybe her maccas supersize meal might have been a good place to start with loosing weight... Afterwards she dropped her head and started praying before eating her meal (Dear God, please don't let me get any fatter from eating this Big Mac!)

Well we are pretty tough and just realised that from here on in when camping we will have to wear everything we own when we camp each night. This was not so much the case when we went to Guadalupe Mountains NP. This is where the highest point in Texas is, thankfully not where we would be camping but we were surprised at the change in altitude to the campground where we were also hit with high gusty winds and we were happy that the mercury did not drop too low. Thankfully our faithful little tent held up to the battering and we awoke to a still calm sunny day for our ride to our next state New Mexico. Texas had been great with its vast dessert landscapes mixed with forests, its gun-loving residents and not to forget the ever so dangerous Mexicans!

Hanging at Luke's house in Austin

Not a bad place to stop for lunch, Texas hill country

Sunset stroll

Our campsite outside of Del Rio

What we awoke to the following morning

Beautiful clear skies

Part of the Chisos Mountain range

It was great to be back in the hills again

That's Mexico on the other side of the river and some of the Mexican souvenirs for sale

Boquilla's Canyon

A close up of the Mexican's handmade souvenirs

Sierra del Carmen mountain range in the background

Dan and his mighty XL600

The Rio Grande running past our campspot

Lovely bit of back country camping and riding

And not to forget the HOT springs

A Mexican on his way back to Mexico after setting up shop in the US

My mighty steed still looking good after so many kilometres

Looking over the Chisos Mountain range

Another day another campspot

Trying to wake up (and warm up!) after a cool night

Wish we had more riding like this in the USA

Nough said!

This photo does not show how cold it really was!

Camping in the Guadalupe Mountains

El Capitan, Guadalupe Mountains

Monday, 17 November 2014

Another Day, Another State

By Sanne

After leaving beautiful Grayton Beach heading west, the weather just got colder and colder. We found out that the reason for this was a massive cold front that was affecting the US, covering many states in a thick blanket of snow. From what I could piece together, a typhoon in Alaska had managed to disrupt the jet stream and was now pushing cold air from Alaska and Canada down into the US. Most states were affected and temperatures dropped way below average. The Mid-West seemed to be the worst hit but it reached all the way down to where we were - in the Gulf of Mexico! We rugged up and pushed on through, covering the state of Alabama in half a day or so; not too much to see on the coast apart from big apartment buildings. Then we crossed into Mississippi. It was quite late in the day and getting dark. We had covered much less miles that day than we had expected to as we had deliberately stayed off the freeway and taken the Highway 90 which we thought would be more scenic. It wasn't. Instead it was just littered with traffic lights hence the reason that at 6pm we found ourselves riding in the dark on a busy highway not having a place to camp. We knew there was some sort of state forest ahead but we were completely knackered after our long ride and tired and grumpy so we found this little dirt track off the highway that lead into some abandoned land. It was not very scenic but it was free - all that matters really!

We have now been in the US for 25 days and have only paid for 6 nights accomoodation so far. The rest has been a mix of staying with couch hosts, ADV riders and bush camping in forests. Luckily you can camp for free in state forests across the US. You just have to be careful there's no hunt on at the time. Like when we rocked up in a forest and found the so-called hunt camps full with camo-clad boys looking like they were going to war. I'm not joking, they had trucks like the military uses to carry soldiers! I wouldn't call it a peaceful-looking camping setting by any means! But people in this part of the world take a lot of pride in their camouflage clothes; they wear it everywhere, to the shops, to name it. It seems to be just their daily uniform really.

Other oddities we have seen include a man carrying a cross down the road. I'm talking about a big-ass cross made out of wood. This man was just dragging it down the road in the middle of nowhere - like a present day Jesus! It is pretty obvious that this is the bible belt that we're riding through here. There are loads of churches, many of them with signs saying stuff like: God Is Awesome! When I went to Walmart one day to look for a new book to read I was overwhelmed with so-called "inspirational choices" such as God what can I do, Talk to me Jesus, Jesus Calling, Illustrated Guide to Biblical Battles not to forget a Sarah Palin biography.

Seriously though, although people here clearly have very different lifestyles from us, I can't understate how friendly folks are here. Several times a day people come up to us and start talking to us about our trip and so forth. Everywhere we stop, be it at a petrol station or a supermarket, we always get a "Where are y'all from" "How are y'all doing" and "Y'all have a good day now!" and if we're really lucky "God bless y'all". But always, always the y'all! I have taken quite a likening to the word y'all, so much in fact that I might just start talking like a southerner myself!

Anyway back to the story. After our stealthy camp next to the highway we awoke to a grey, cold morning. We packed up the tent in a hurry and stopped down the road for pancakes. Then we crossed into the next state Louisiana and onto New Orleans where we had arranged to stay with an ADV rider. What ensued was 3 awesome days in the company of Ceasar. On the first night we went out to Bourbon Street, the famous drinking strip in New Orleans. Because of the before-mentioned cold front the weather was absolutely freezing and we struggled to keep warm as we went from bar to bar.
The next day we went to do a favourite American pastime: going shootin'! Ceasar took us to a local shooting range with all his own guns, 1 riffle and 3 handguns. The riffle was the easiest to shoot with, the handguns had quite a bit of recoil, especially the Colt .45. Safety was quite good in there, we had to watch a video first and wear glasses and earplugs (it's very loud in there!).

It was a fun experience but I don't really see the fascination of it. After about an hour I was ready to call it a day. I had a chat with the old boys running the joint and they asked me about the gun laws where I come from. I told them that in both Denmark and Australia people generally don't keep guns unless they have a hunting license. I told them that in Australia there was a mass-shooting in the 90's and after that the government put in place a national buy-back scheme for guns which was successful  in eliminating lots of guns. The men's response to that story was: What a shame one person ruins it for everyone. I was like, ruin it? His friend cracked up laughing: I don't think she sees it like that! I told them that in Australia we don't fell like we need a gun to protect ourselves. Their response: Here you do! These men echoed the paranoia we have been hearing ever since we've been in the States. People here really feel like they need a gun to protect themselves. They are afraid that with more restricted gun laws, all the guns will be owned by criminals and they won't be able to defend themselves against them. Also, they believe it's their right because it's in the constitution. We have been asked by people here if we carry a weapon while travelling and then get a surprised look when we say no...

We left New Orleans and rode all day to Lake Charles where yet another ADV rider, Darrell, had set us up in his dive shop. We slept on the floor in the pool house and was trusted with a key to the whole place without even meeting the owner until the next morning! We have come to really enjoy this ADV rider tent space site, where you can look up other riders all over the US who can host you. It's worked brilliantly for us so far and we plan on keeping on using it for the rest of the trip.

The next morning we left Lake Charles and rode towards Texas in heavy rain and it got worse the further west we got. Crossing the state line to Texas a sign greeted us saying: Welcome to Texas - Drive friendly, the Texas way. Straight after another sign states: Deaths on Texas roads this year: 2781.

Y'all have a good day now!

Sweet Home Alabama! 


Our camp next to the highway


Typical style raised houses out in the bayous

Morbid reminder of Hurricane Katrina: 
The number at the bottom stands for the number of dead people found in the house by the military

Out and about in Bourbon Street and freezing!

With Lynn and Ceasar

Time to go shootin' some sh*t up!

 You can choose from several different targets to shoot at

Zombie Osama anyone?

Mark having a go

We had quite an arsenal to choose from

Then it was my turn

The famous Mississippi River, running through New Orleans

Mark and Ceasar enjoying a fantastic local beer called Arbita (it's brewed with raspberries!)

A walk around the French Quarter

This is apparently one of the oldest pubs in the US and it only uses candles at night

The famous Bourbon Street

Street music

One of the oldest cathedrals in the US

Leaving New Orleans and Ceasar after 3 brilliant days

Ridiculous wheels!