We arrived in Mobile late last night and strangely slept in a little late today. We got down to breakfast and scrounged through what was left of a pretty weak continental breakfast which wasn’t a big problem for me because I only, usually, have cereal and yogurt. For Joe, however, it is a first hurdle of trying to maintain a pretty strict vegan diet as we head through Central America. I am a bit nervous about what places like Guatemala hold in terms of meatless options while remaining glad that I have precious few dietary restrictions short of eyeballs, brains and most guts.
We are preparing for a long day from Mobile, AL through to Austin, TX at about 650 miles. On our way down the elevators in the morning I realized very quickly that I need to find a better way to carry my gear as I have two very heavy panniers, one in each hand, and a Mosko Moto Backcountry 40 pack on my back. In order to carry all this stuff I need to have my jacket on already which is starting to heat me up before we’ve even hit the sun. By the time we get down to the bikes in the courtyard of the Renaissance Mobile Riverview Plaza Hotel I have already started sweating quite heavily which wouldn’t be a problem but it definitely makes for awkward casual conversation with the people gathered near the bikes who think you may pass out at any moment.
We met a brother and sister who had arrived in Mobile from Florida to welcome their sister’s new baby girl. They were quite overjoyed with the newest arrival to the family and I took the opportunity to practice my goal of reaching out more while on the road. The conversation felt free and easy with their interest in our travels bounding with the same sincerity as their own joy. I got to hand out my first stickers of the trip which felt really great and a little like a necessary hurdle to get over before we got into Mexico. I was glad to have tackled it early. The pair wished us luck and we boarded the bikes with a little extra lightness from the positivity of the morning.
The mileage today wasn’t particularly fun or interesting but I loved watching the surrounding landscape morph from the familiar tree lined highways to raised concrete bridges spanning for miles over the watery bayous of Southern Louisiana. It brought back memories of reading Ted Simon’s journey around the world in Jupiter’s Travels where he spoke of the major difference between traveling by plane to a destination and by roadway because you had the opportunity on the road to view all the nuance change and similarities of neighboring communities. It struck me as a similar difference between flicking on a light in your bathroom and immediately being granted light so quickly that the dark is no longer evident as opposed to watching the night slowly fade moment to moment as the light conquers it with the sun rise. I was hopeful to see the changes in population as we traveled through countries I’ve only ever read about before.
There was another realization that washed over me as we cruised across Interstate 10 hovering over the water and it had me a little concerned. In all the head turning and gawking I was doing, I noticed my eyes and mind were spending less and less time on the road immediately ahead. This just would not do traveling 70-80 mph but it would almost certainly be a problem when I got into Mexico where the rules of the road are a bit more lax. It was time for my to buckle down and recognize my first priority is to complete this trip safely because if I died on the road my wife would never let me do this again. This is the great paradox of travel. We want to see everything but you can’t possibly view it all. I have to be okay getting bits and pieces and knowing there will always be a reason to come back because I have either missed something or the inevitable change has made the old, new again. Each new mile makes my life more full exactly because of the fleeting nature of the experience.
Joe and I were still well within our cell signal so we decided to practice using the bluetooth headsets in our helmets while we could still have a back up. It was fun being able to push a button and immediately get into Joe’s head while it was a little unnerving when the reverse happened. For some reason my main fear was he would click in and I wouldn’t catch it until he had already heard me singing a few bars of Abba’s Take a Chance On Me. For those that might share a similar concern, the headsets do a pretty good job of making you aware of the changeover so you can compose yourself appropriately. We soon found ourselves punching the buttons for all manners of attractions we passed to let the other guy know before it was nothing but a glimmering mirage a mile behind us. One of Joe’s best was letting me know from behind that he had spotted an alligator swimming in the canal just below where we were riding. As I didn’t see it, probably because of previously mentioned singing fit, I choose to believe he was simply lying about it.
We pulled into Austin pretty late that night and I made a phone call to my buddy who was putting us up for the night to apologize for arriving not at 5 or 6 pm but closer to 10 or 11 because we cannot bring ourselves to keep a tight schedule on this trip so far. He guided me through his neighborhood in the high hills overlooking downtown Austin on what amounted to a much more exciting ride than it should have been. Being relatively new on a bike I didn’t consider just how troubling steep hills could be on travel while on a bike if you didn’t think about your path beforehand and decided to stop. After a couple of close calls where I almost turned around and dropped/fell off the side of the mountain we finally rolled into his courtyard driveway to complete a long second day of riding.
Joe dismounted and was ready to step inside quickly because he didn’t pack like it was the end of the world. I, on the other hand, took a few minutes longer because arranging 40 pounds of gear is seldom easy but it is hampered even further by having a tank bag and helmet to contend with as well. I eventually made it inside to be greeted with a warm kitchen and a cold beer to celebrate the end of our USA-only travel days. We quickly decided that with our late arrival and a big day of travel to get all the way to Tampico, it might be best to spend an extra day in Austin to recover. It will be nice to see some of the life we have been blistering past over the past couple of days. Plus who doesn’t love spending time in Austin?