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 McDonalds...you 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! 

Mississippi

Our camp next to the highway


Louisiana


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!

 Texas!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Florida

By Mark

After one hell of a hangover from the Halloween party I managed to don my helmet the following day to make our way south for Key West. On the way though we had a rendezvous with Albert on the Dolphin expressway to pick up Sanne’s sunnies that Albert took the previous evening by mistake. Well, we made the next mistake and missed our exit point all together off the freeway. Ten miles later we pulled off to try and find a way of contacting him. Good old Maccas and their free wifi came in handy so we tried contacting him via skype, yes we were miles from him but he was a champ and drove to us.

After picking up the shades we finally got away from the expressway, I hate expressways especially on our under-powered bikes. Thankfully after many warnings about Miami/Florida drivers we had a safe ride. We were told stories of how bad they all were but after nearly 14 months in South America we found it very safe and comforting and at no time thought we were in danger. To us most drivers were doing the right thing, hell at least they stay in their own lane here which is a rarity in South America! Can't be too bad when all the motorcycle riders here are all riding with no helmets and the usual attire consisting of no more than shorts and a t-shirt. I will never get my head around the no helmet idea. I am not prettiest of people but I like my head the way it looks - not what it could look like after some gravel rash!

The road for the most part was straight and boring, that was until we started heading onto the keys themselves via the oversea highway. The building of this road is some feat in itself. I am sure there would have been a lot of landfill used to support such a road on marsh type land and sand. On top of that the numerous bridges that take you from one island (key) to the next, the longest bridge at 7 miles was a sight in itself and made for a scenic ride.

We had done some research into where to stay in Key West but our meager budget did not allow for even a single night down here. All campgrounds, well not really campgrounds but RV parks as they call them here were charging $70 US dollars a night for a patch of grass for our tent! A complete rip off in our eyes. Then if you have an RV you are looking at $100 a night, then on top you have to pay to dump your waste water etc. With the amount of huge RV’s heading south the owners of the parks are making a killing. The RV owners loosing but with the size and cost of these things I don’t really think money is an issue to many of them. So where did we stay? Well after looking online and finding a website called freecamping.net we were headed for Sugarloaf Key. We read that if you pull off Highway 1 onto the Old State Road and follow it down until it says no entry. We ignored this sign and followed down the old abandoned road until you come to an old burnt out bridge, here there are a couple of spaces on each side of the old road. Plenty of space for us, our bikes and our tent. We only had to share the campsite with the local mozzies and midgies. It was free, it was quiet, just the way we like it.

From here we hit the road south down to Key West which was a short 30 km ride. Key West is by far the most beautiful looking key, very green and of course up-market. The homes are all well kept in a good state, lovely white homes with perfectly manicured lawns. Key West is also only 90 miles from Cuba. We were well out of place in our dirty bike clothes and since it was warm I stripped off out of my gear while Sanne decided to stay in hers. It always makes for a good laugh to see people checking out Sanne giving her a good look up and down wearing her big bike boots. We enjoyed strolling around the streets and the wharf but did not find the need to hang around that long and the beach was calling us.

We headed off to find a beach to have some lunch. Here we had a strange encounter. We found a nice shaded spot on the beach with a picnic table and shelter, there was a bunch of beach gear belonging to someone but we could not see who it all belonged to. We thought if they come back and they ask us to move on it would not be a problem. This is when some woman arrived and asked what we were doing, it was quite self explanatory with all our food on the table and with me a mouthful of food I answered her all too obvious question, we are having lunch. The woman in question goes onto ask about her friend and where he is. I reply that I have no idea of who you are talking about. She replies with, oh well so you find it ok just to make yourself at home here then? Me: well yes, is there a problem? Her: oh no problem and starts having a little fit and pointing and carrying on as if we should just leave. She keeps going on with her pointless questions, so how long have you been here and I reply: oh about 3 minutes, she asks again and I reply oh ok maybe 4! She does not find it to amusing. Really I could not care less for this woman. Shortly after another fellow turns up on the beach and takes a seat where we are. He says hi and has no problem with us being there. This is when the woman starts carrying on like a mental case asking where the hell so and so is. The other guy replies with I don't know, he left early this morning and that he had not seen him since. This goes on back and forth with this idiot of a woman asking the same questions over and over, not a bright human being. Basically she had brought with her another guy she found somewhere down town and was looking to score weed! She starts acting like a right brat and the poor guy sitting beside had to put up with her endless shit and stupid questions, I commend him for not getting up and smacking her in the face especially when she starts screeching that she just wants to buy some f*#king weed and everybody on the beach is looking. Nothing like keeping a low profile. This continued on for some time until she finally gave up and left. I had a headache after listening to this woman. With that we were finished packed our stuff and moved on further down the beach. Not the best place to be hanging around especially if it was the local place to buy weed.

Well I never got in the water nor did Sanne, it was actually really cold the water and not as nice as I had hoped it would have been. All the same we enjoyed chilling out on the beach as there would not be much more of this once we leave from here to go to California. That afternoon we were back on the road to sleep one more night at our little campspot.

Our next stop from here after back-tracking was to finally start heading west and make our way through the Everglades. The ride north-west was a long and dull one with long straight roads. Thankfully the roads were pretty quiet but the weather had taken a turn for the worse and we found ourselves gearing up in our wet weather gear. We were headed for a campground on a scenic loop road but when we arrived it was locked, however the beauty of the bikes is we could just ride around the gate and let ourselves in. Being in this part of the world has its downfalls and in this particular place it was the mozzies. On night fall they came in droves. We quickly tried to escape them and jumped in the tent, many followed which made for a restless night of constant buzzing in our ears. The following morning there were so many surrounding our tent but thankfully they were not so interested in us.

After packing we made our way back out to the highway to go for our first ride on an airboat. This is where we met Kevin, an IT guy from California who runs a small cafe by the Everglades for passing motorists and tourists. He was quite the character telling us about how he and his wife ended up there. Next interesting fellow we met was Dave, a local who used to be an ex-factory rider for Yamaha riding speedway in his younger days. He had a story or two to tell and it would have been fun to hang around all day with these guys but we had miles to make after our boat ride. We enjoyed our ride out on the airboat but it would have been more fun if I was the one at the helm! A big problem in the Everglades is phyton snakes. Lots of people release them into the Everglades when they get too big and now the pythons have become a problem as they kill a lot of the alligators.

After our trip we hit the road and rode back past where we had camped the previous evening to ride what is called the loop road getting you up close and personal with the Everglades, we also wanted to see more alligators which are meant to line the road and they didn't disappoint. There were many along the roadside, some would hear the bikes and run quickly off the roadside splashing into the waterway as we rode by, others including one mum stayed very still as we approached and did not flinch as we pulled up beside her to take a few pictures of her and her young ones. We were both surprised that she was not more territorial about us being so close. We left her alone and enjoyed the short loop road before joining back up onto the highway a few more miles down the road.

Since we are on such a meagre budget for the remainder of our trip we have been trying to use couchsurfing as often as possible but we have found the advrider tent space a much better option and our next stop was in Punta Gorda with a fellow round the world biker by the name of Doug who is a member on advrider. We actually first heard about Doug back when we were planning our trip. He does not ride the typical bikes around the world but he chooses to ride old Harley's and Indians. He loves bikes so much and his entire house is a dedication to them. Anything and everything is bike related from his towels to bed spreads. I should also mention his collection is now at about 35 motorcycles. I could not help but keep drooling over his bike collection including an old Danish Nimbus, to Triumphs to Nortons and of course his old Indian and Harleys he has done his bike trips on. Staying with Doug and his girlfriend Polly was great and we had many tales to talk about our travels, It was a shame that when we were back in Bulgaria we did not stay with them at their biker hostel 'motocamp' but we were very happy for their warm welcome into their home in Florida. After a couple of nights refreshed and with the comfort of a bed we made tracks north to head up and around into the Gulf of Mexico.

The next few days were a repetition of getting up in the morning and drying the tent out from either the previous nights rain or just from the condensation built up from the cold nights followed by riding most of the day and repeating all over again. It has been great though meeting so many locals along the way always happy to have a chat with us where ever we seem to stop. After a few days of bush camping in state forests we came to a beautiful beach and also a state park by the name of Grayton Beach. I spoke with the rangers and found the camping to be a little more than we wanted to pay but since we have been getting a lot of free accommodation we took it up, the idea of a hot shower was too good to pass up. When I went back into the office to pay they suggested another option which was to camp in another area where we had a great open patch of grass by a lake and was half the price of the other campsites, I think they realised we were on such a small budget and were looking out for us. After setting up we hit the beach thinking of going for a swim but the water was a little cold so instead we enjoyed a really nice afternoon stroll up and down the beach until the sunset. Grayton beach would have to be one the most peaceful nights we have spent on the trip and with the gorgeous white sands it reminded us off the beaches around Esperance in Western Australia. All good things must come to an end and we had to hit the road once more to keep making miles west.

Crossing one of the bridges heading south to Key West

Our free campspot on Sugarloaf Key

Peaceful, quiet and a beautiful sunset to boot

Hemingway's home in Key West

One hell of an eclectic car

Ugly car with big ridiculous wheels

Another lovely home with lush green gardens

The famous key lime pie

As I mentioned, beautiful kept streets and manicured lawns



Our campspot in the Everglades

Luckily we didn't come across any of these guys

An old school airboat

This guy was just hanging out waiting for someone or something to fall in so he could have a feed

Feed me!


Ready to ride

Sadly we did not see as much wildlife here as I would have liked, 
may have had something to do with the V8 engine of the airboat!


A patch of grass was no problem for the airboat

A beautiful still morning after a wet and rainy night


No really, we were all having fun, even the captain!

Enough said

Kevin and Dave

On the loop road


If you look closely you can see a bunch of baby gators on the right hand side of mumma

Also a couple in the water, I was very surprised mum let us get as close as we did

Doug and his early 1920's Nimbus

Doug in his workshop

Watching the sunset from Doug and Polly's backyard

Sanne trying out Doug's confederate flag helmet

Saying goodbye to lovely Doug and Polly

A wet nights camping in Goethe State Forest

Having some fun in the sand trying to find a campspot

Beautiful little frog

The beautiful white sands of Grayton Beach, FL



Stunning clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico

Sanne testing the water