Week 5 Bicycle Ride Across America

Day 27, April 29, Johnson City, TX to Austin, TX, 56 Miles

After another free motel breakfast, we headed to Austin. Our ride began on a nice country road winding beside streams and dry creek beds. Every once and a while we saw a water level gauge on the road which measures how deep the water over the road is during a flash flood. Today was the first time we had to ride through water at one of these ravines. It was nice to see the gauge and know we could safely ride through the water.

As we approached Austin, the road we were on had poor visibility, with lots of ups and downs and curves. There was not enough visibility to pass anyone, so for many miles the road was two lanes with a double yellow line. With no shoulder for us to ride in we were in the car’s lane, and they couldn’t pass us safely. When drivers got tired of following us, they would pass anyway, safe, or not. It was not a fun road to ride on.

Today we rode on the steepest road we have had so far,17% grade, just before getting into Austin. I was huffing and puffing at the top of that hill.

Once we got to Austin the riding was fabulous. We were almost always on a bike path or a dedicated lane for bicycles. Except for frequent stop signs or lights, it was a nice ride through the city.

I planned to replace my shoes here in Austin and Mellow Johnny’s bike shop was only one block off our path. This shop was founded by Lance Armstrong in 2008 and he still owns it today. It was a great shop with lots of shoe options, but only two pairs in my size; one pair was purple, the other white. The salesman told me they were having a hard time selling purple men’s shoes and offered me 40% off if I purchased the purple pair. I chose purple and saved $120. I also bought a jersey and a cycling cap as my scalp was getting too much sun through the gaps in my helmet. 

We then headed for our hotel which was on the other side of Austin near the airport. Since we started our ride earlier than usual today and we rode fewer miles than usual we were able to finish early. Giving us time to shower and meet Mike and Kindra Arthur at Black’s BBQ  for dinner. Mike graduated from high school with me. After a nice dinner and visit, they gave us the things we had shipped to them, including a new external battery cable that I had been taping onto my bike as the old connecting latch broke a couple of week ago.

After our time in Austin, the first big city since El Paso, we no longer have anything held together with electrical or duct tape. 

Day 28, April 30, Austin, TX to La Grange, TX, 78 Miles

We left the suburbs of Austin to ride through the beautiful central Texas farmland. We are now in the “Texas Triangle.” This is the area inside the triangle formed by San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. It contains about 25% of the Texas land and more than 75% of its population. Most of that population resides in the three cities at the corners of the triangle plus Austin and Fort Worth, the five largest cities in Texas. They are also five of the largest 20 cities in the US.

I wanted to take our rest day in Austin, but the weather said differently. Today was the last non-rainy day before we were to head into a storm. Thus, we decided to ride in the good weather and take our rest day during the storm. 

Our stopping point today was out in the farmland area not in a town. So, Carolyn picked us up and took us to our hotel in the nearby town of La Grange where we again had more Mexican food for dinner.

Day 29, May 1, La Grange, TX to Navasota, TX, 63 Miles

After breakfast today Carolyn drove us back to the spot out in the farmland where we stopped yesterday. We pulled to the side of the road and started unloading the bikes and getting ready to ride. As we were prepping, the farmer mowing the side of the road came by and I noticed the spot we were parked in was only mowed one width of the mower. I suspect he wanted to mow where we were, but he turned around and continued mowing the other direction.

More farmland today as well as a few small towns with cute old buildings. We didn’t stop for lunch today as we were trying to get to the motel before the predicted thunderstorm hit. We got a bit wet early in the day, but finished before the main storm hit. It is supposed to rain about two inches through the night. 

We saw a Chinese restaurant on the map that was only a block away. So we decided to walk over for dinner, only to find it was a little corner in the back of the gas station convenience store. So, we ended up having another dinner at a gas station. We ate right there in the gas station on one of the two tables. The food was good and gave us a break from all the Mexican food we have been eating. Carolyn and Paul finished the day doing our laundry.

Day 30, May 2, Navasota, TX, Rest Day

Today we awoke to a very heavy rain shower. The storm is upon us. We took our rest day at the perfect time. We don’t have to ride in this deluge. We spent the day laying around doing nothing. Our backside and legs are very happy for a day off the bike.

Day 31, May 3, Navasota, TX, to Deridder, LA, Driving.

Well today was an unexpected new adventure. We woke up to the phone ringing. It was the motel we were supposed to stay in tonight. The first floor of the motel flooded during the night. They are next to one of the rivers that exceeded flood stage during the night’s severe storm. They have canceled our reservation for tonight. 

Multiple storms over the last week have put many rivers in SE Texas above flood stage. This is similar to the last hurricane to come through. Several areas we are about to ride through are under mandatory evacuation orders and one of today’s roads is listed as washed out during the night.

We discussed what we should do as we don’t want to ride into a flood zone. We can either stay in this motel and wait a few days for the flood to recede or we can load up the car and drive around the flood warning zones. 

We did not like the idea of sitting and waiting for who knows how long, maybe to find out we can’t ride our route anyway because of flood damage. We decided to drive around the flooding and continue our journey.

We checked out of the hotel and headed North until we left the flooded areas. Then turned East until we could drive South and rejoin our route on the other side of the flooding.

Deridder, Louisiana became our target town. It is the first town on our route that is both East of the flooding and has a motel. This plan means we will unfortunately bypass 235 miles of our route, which equates to three days of riding. It also means we won’t end up on a dead-end road with a washed-out section we can’t cross, and we won’t get yelled at by emergency personnel wondering why we are riding our bicycles into a disaster area. Parts of this area have already been declared a disaster zone by the Governor. 

During our drive we did encounter many areas of flooding. Many of the rivers had left their banks. But the roads we picked were still open and we did not find any area with water over the road. It was a group effort to pick a path and check the roads for flood warnings to get us safely to the other side.

Our drive around the flood was 368 miles long. We still expect rain during our rides for the next few days. But hopefully, we will not encounter any more flooded areas.

The silver lining is my backside and legs got a two-day respite from riding. Incidentally it was recommended to us to take one day a week off and two days off at the end of the first month. This turned into our two-day break after the fourth week of riding. 

Day 32, May 4, Bon Wier, TX, to Oberlin, LA, 73 Miles

Today we woke up to decent weather and watched the weather channel showing all the flooding and rescues in the area we bypassed yesterday. We decided to drive backwards on our bike route toward the flooding to see if we could ride part of the route that we had bypassed. 

We made it back 26 miles to the town of Bon Wier, TX, just past the Sabine River which was above flood stage. To get farther back on our course we would have to turn onto a farm road, leaving the main highway. This is where the river has left its banks, so we stopped at this point, unloaded our bikes and started riding back toward the motel we had just left. The distance between the point we stopped riding on the other side of the flooding to the point we started today was 210 miles.  

We later learned that two of the riders we were following who were near us chose to brave the flood zone. One of them ended up trying to get through a flooded road and got in too deep and gave up. He had to turn back and retrace his ride to find another route through. 

After watching the news, I’m glad we chose to go around the flooded area. 

We had a pretty good ride today, but we did get rained on. All the rivers and streams we crossed were flooding but nothing bad was in our path. When we got to Oberlin, we found large water fields that we discovered were growing rice and crawfish. What a great use of land to be able to grow two different crops in the same field at the same time.

As we rode through this area in the rain, the water blown up onto our faces from the tires tasted very fishy. At the end of our ride, we noticed that our clothes smelled fishy, which made our room stink. That was the worst smelling room we had ever been in. Hope the motel owner didn’t mind. The fish smell comes from all the crawfish crushed in the road mixed with the rain. 

Day 33, May 5, Oberlin, LA to Bunkie, LA, 55 Miles

We woke today to very heavy rain falling outside our motel window. We decided to wait it out, so we left the motel to start our ride at 11am, our check out time. We then drove to the spot we stopped riding yesterday. There were lots of crawfish crossing the roads as well as turtles. We started our journey a few weeks ago seeing a lot of dead deer on the road. That later turned into armadillos. Now we are seeing crawfish and turtles.

Once we started riding, we had nearly no rain. The forecast was for a crosswind at zero mph. Turned out to be a headwind at 5-10 mph. After paying our $6 entrance fee we cycled 5.3 miles through Chicot State Park. Carolyn drove around the park to avoid paying the fee. It was a pretty park, but there was a lot of flooding. 

The roads in this area were in very poor repair and we had to stay on the watch for potholes. We stopped at an independent motel, one of the few places to sleep in the area. Once again we drove to a nearby town for a Mexican dinner where for the first time since we began our ride across America, we heard live music. It was a treat for Cinco de Mayo.

On the way back to the motel, google maps took us on a road that looked like a driveway and then turned into a muddy patch of dirt running through the middle of a field. We were not sure what to do, so we pressed on since there was one other set of tracks in the mud. They must have used Google maps also. 

With all the rain, our tires sank about two inches into the mud as we drove. We ended up coming out at someone else’s yard to get back onto a paved road. Then we were flinging mud off our tires onto the road for the next mile. What an adventure. I wonder if there was a kid sitting at the table eating dinner saying to his mom, “Hey, there’s a silver car driving through our field.”

Driving through the muddy field was an interesting way to bring week five to a close. We have more rain in next week’s forecast to look forward to. 

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