Friday, September 30, 2016

160: Don't drink the water!

Well, there's a first time for everything.  Today we heard from other guests at the diner that we should not drink the water in Marlin, where we stayed last night.  Oops! It's a little late for that. We brushed our teeth, we took our meds this morning, we filled the water bottles . . . what's the problem?
Moon set over Marlin

We started our day early - before daybreak - and drove just a little bit out of our way to find some breakfast because the road ahead looked to be completely bereft of places that we could stop to eat. (And by the way, as we rode through it in real time, we were able to confirm that!) So, we rode up to the Lakeside Grill in the dark and ordered our breakfast - which was great - and wondered how this nice place was going to make it with no other customers. Not to worry; before we finished our breakfast several other tables filled with folks coming in to eat. Two of them, Johnny and Gerald, were interested in our trip and we enjoyed visiting with them and answering their questions. Somehow, I don't remember exactly, the topic of Marlin and the "boil the water" letter came up. What?

It seems that there had been some trouble with the municipal water supply. Locals were told to boil the water or use bottled water. Rather than risk getting sick (better safe than sorry), we stopped at the gas station before leaving town, poured out our water bottles, and refilled them with purchased water.

While we were there, the sun was coming down main street,
Blazing gold morning in Marlin
which I guess is why all the birds in town like to roost on these wires.  Sort of creepy, really - all those birds lined up so precisely on the lines!  There were also scads of dead crickets all over the sidewalks near the building. They were also around the ice machine and soda machine. I figure that perhaps they head there at night because it's warm, and if the building has been sprayed, then they all die while they are hanging out overnight. In any case - yuck! Not a pretty sight!
Hitchcock-ian scene

Mass suicide of crickets?

Rolling through the countryside we passed another Texas icon - the pumpjack!  This one was petite - a small size I have not seen before.

Every Texan needs one of these

And then just 30 miles down the road, and there's Mom and Dad waiting to greet us.  Since you can't see Mom (she is behind the I pad, trying to get a picture), I've included a better picture of them both.

It's good to be here.  More family coming to visit this weekend - can't wait!

Mom and Dad waiting to welcome us in


An update on the axle issue:  Roger has found a fellow that works up wheels for tandems, and in consultation with him, decided it was time to replace the wheel set. So we have ordered those, and they will be sent to a bike shop in Fort Worth, where we expect to be middle of next week.  We will swap out the whole shebang at that time.  We will probably ship the old ones home . . .  Anybody need a set of wheels?!

The day's report:  Marlin to Waco, 36.4 miles/7587 to date

By the way, I went on-line to check on the situation with Marlin's water. There was a health alert about a year and a half ago, when there was a problem with the city's filtration system and a leak somewhere. But it must have been fixed, because the City's water department website said "no alerts at this time."  Whew!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

159: In my little town

We are staying tonight in a Budget Inn in Marlin Texas. We have paid more for a camp site than we paid for this room!  It's not awful; in fact it's clean and the fact that there are no doo-dads or lamps in the room actually gives us more room for our stuff.  And there is a hard floor - pretend wood - so we have no concerns about wheeling the bike in. Since the room is not stuffed with furniture, we even have more room than is typical once we get the tandem inside.

But if you saw the place, and you had another option - you would probably have driven on by.  Not that there's anything wrong with that!  We might have, too, but were ready to be done for the day.
Free Wifi!  Color TV, and A/C

And then, there's the issue of where to eat.  The manager of the motel said that there was a Pizza Hut just around the corner (yay!) or the convenience store had many things, and there is a microwave in the room. Uh, Pizza Hut, please.  As it turns out, they have a rather nice flatbread veggie contraption with fresh spinach on it and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar (really!). It made a nice appetizer, and we split the baked pasta with meat sauce.  Dessert was the little pan of brownies. I guess they can run anything through those ovens.

The other option, next door, seemed unlikely to be able to offer us anything to eat in the near term.
Grass growing through the parking lot at Barney's - not a good sign

And that's about it for Marlin. There are a few other fast food places out on Highway 6, which skirts the town. But old "Business 6" - there's not much business left here.

Scenes from the Texas countryside - a Texas barn comes complete with its own university endorsement. For those who don't know, the Aggies are Texas A and M and "gig 'em" is just what they say about their opponents.

There was a great cycling statue in the tiny town of Calvert, as well as a renowned chocolatier.  Sadly, we did not stop to sample the wares.

Loved this
In Calvert, Texas

And then, there's the issue of the rumble strips. Please, please, please . . . stop putting them smack in the middle of the shoulder.

The day's report:  Bryan to Marlin, 59.4 miles/7551 to date

Our route today:  click here
NOT the right place for rumble strips

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

158: Waltz across Texas

The weather gods were really great to us today! The clouds and rain that we've had the past couple of days in Houston were the result of a small front that moved through the area. It won't last long, but at least today we rode in near-perfect conditions (for the Texas Gulf Coast, anyway!) It was cool in the morning, and by afternoon when it warmed up a bit, we had a nice hazy cloud cover so we were not in the direct sun. Even so, since we had not ridden in a week, it was a pretty long day in the saddle.
Our escort from the Woodlands

Marguerite and Bruce rode with us out to the edge of the Woodlands. We were happy for the escort, as this is one of those designed communities tucked into real woods and there are virtually no landmarks anywhere as you travel within the town.  I told Marguerite that I probably could live there for years and still get lost traveling around between the shopping areas and my home!

The gentle rolling hills are very pretty in this part of Texas, but began to wear us down over time. And - doggone it! - that problem with the rear axle is back, and worse than ever. To bring you up to speed on that issue, Roger had ordered, with the help of the bike technician in Chattanooga, a replacement axle because ours was bent (slightly, but enough to cause the chain to act up.) Well, when we went to get it installed while we were in Houston, he found out that it wasn't long enough. Well, that's just punk! So the guys had everything all apart, and they put it back together, but may not have greased it up really well, or - is it possible? - put the axle in backwards. In any case, the problem is back, and so we are having to be very careful as we come to a stop to keep pressure on the pedals so we don't end up with a big loop of chain clattering about in the spokes. Argh!  It's always something.

A proper Texas Longhorn
We are aiming for Waco, and a visit with my folks, in the next day or so. With luck, the cooler weather will hold out for our trip up there. Here are some pictures from the Texas countryside.

The little restaurant was not open when we went through, but I bet it's hopping on Friday nights!
Yes, those are ashtrays on the tables

The day's report:  The Woodlands to Bryan, 76,7 miles/7492 to date

Here's the route we took

These cows have a pretty swell place to hang out, eh?
And our farewell dinner last night with Marguerite and Bruce.
A very good meal at Los Cucos

Monday, September 26, 2016

157: Sometimes a calorie is just a calorie

My nephew asked a question a little while ago about what we eat on the road - how we find and prepare our meals. So if you've been curious about that, here's a little bit of information about finding food on the road.
A rare "fancy drink" cocktail

Beer and a burger always works

We post a lot of photos on Facebook of lovely meals, beer, PIE! and ice cream stops but that's only part of the story. Many days, what we find to eat is not exactly gourmet grade or even particularly nutritious. If you can believe the calculations that are done by the Garmin computer on my bike, we're generally burning somewhere between 2000 and 4000 calories a day while we ride - in addition to what our normal calorie intake would be - so it's often just a case of trying to replace calories. Not all of those calories are going to be Grade A, if you know what I mean.

Oatmeal was a staple of our camp mornings. However, we were not camping that often, and had begun to adopt a 'camp close to food' approach, so we sent our stove and cookware home. That means that we now must find a restaurant close to a camping location, if we want to eat when we are sleeping out of doors.

Typical "free breakfast" from the hotel - YUMMY!
If we are staying in a home, or a hotel, we probably will get something more substantial to eat before we ride out. Many of the motor lodges in the mid range offer some kind of breakfast for guests, and we will take advantage of these if they are available. They are typically good for some assortment of the following: bagel, instant oatmeal, yogurt, maybe eggs, bacon or sausage, those do-it-yourself waffles, and in the south - biscuits and gravy! (Ay yi yi - how they love their biscuits and gravy!)  If they have the packets of instant oatmeal, I always go for one or two of those, plus a waffle or cereal if there is no protein available. We don't love this stuff, but it will keep us going for a couple of hours.

Second breakfast

Country ham, eggs, grits - yahoo! for Southern fare
By 10 o'clock in the morning, we are ready for 'second breakfast.' So whether we started at a camp or elsewhere we usually need to pause at that point. I will say this for many parts of the country, they can offer great deals on breakfast. It's been a very long time in California since I have seen a complete breakfast for under $10, but they are commonplace in the smaller towns around the country. We've enjoyed eggs, bacon and toast for as little as $3.00. There was a point in our trip, somewhere before we hit our turn-around point in Vermont, when I just got so tired of eating breakfast like this that I thought I was going to go crazy. I was just so tired of it. But you have to eat. We will run out of energy otherwise, and when that happens, it's not pretty!  If we are hoping for a quick stop, we'll look for a McDonald's.  I'm not a fan of McDonald's generally, but we stop in for a sausage biscuit or egg McMuffin and use the Wifi and their coffee is actually not bad . . . 
Ate a few of these . . .

Often times people will say, 'food just tastes so good when you're out of doors.' And that might be part of why we feel that we've had some of the best fruit and vegetables of our lives while we've been on this trip. If we are able to stop at a market on our way to camp we'll pick up some vegetables or fruit to add to our meal. Or we will stop at a farm stand and consume some fresh fruit on the spot. One day we got some broccoli and a couple of avocados from a little Mexican grocery store.  I think we ate those rehydrated backpacker's meals that night, supplemented by the fresh veggies, and as we stood there having them we said 'this is the best broccoli we've ever eaten!' Maybe true, maybe not - but it felt that way at that point. 
Roger's birthday in Sandpoint - that was a very good meal!

We have enjoyed some really great meals along the way. This is a vacation, after all - not a death march - so we are not adverse to treating ourselves. But once we hit eastern Washington, our opportunities for fine dining went way down. In much of the great middle of our nation, we found the food options very limited. Through eastern Montana, South Dakota, even in Minnesota and Wisconsin's small towns, the choices in the diners or lounge/grill (sometimes the only option for eating) were extremely limited. We could not get any fresh vegetables. They just are not available - there's no store and the lounge doesn't serve them. When we stopped in at a bar or grill, we could always get a hamburger. Sometimes grilled cheese or egg salad would be on the menu. "Salad" consisted of chopped iceberg lettuce, with some grated cheese on top - if it was even on the menu.  Sometimes we asked the waitress if she could make us a salad, since they had lettuce and tomato for the burgers, and when they would do so, they didn't know what to charge us! Even at the "family restaurant" end of the scale, we couldn't find fresh vegetables.
Notice the choice of side dishes

So we ate like the plains states people eat:  Meat (mostly beef) and potatoes. Fish and kitchen were on offer, usually "broasted" - fried under pressure. (The cooking technique is not much employed in my home state of California, but it does result in a moist, not at all greasy taste to the fish or chicken, which is encased in a crunchy breading of some type before being put in the fryer.) There were LOTS of potatoes. At some places, the list of available side dishes was, and I kid you not:  baked potato, mashed potato, smashed potatoes (mashed covered with onions and cheese), french fries, curly fries, waffle fries, tater tots, or onion rings. One place offered french fries, onion rings, fried mushrooms, or fried cauliflower!  So - you could get a vegetable, I guess - as long as it was white and fried!  
A lovely B and B breakfast

And this is while we are riding past miles and miles of wheat, corn and soybeans. America produces tons and tons of these agricultural products, but they are not for us for eat. They will go into our cars, our cows, our corn syrup. Meanwhile, the farmers producing them are living in a vast food desert. When we reached Appleton, Wisconsin - a relatively large metro area at 150,000 - we rejoiced at having a salad with mixed greens, carrots and cabbage and some fresh grilled salmon on top, What a treat! And it had been literally weeks since we'd seen anything like that on a menu. 

The convenience stores have kept us alive, as terrible as that sounds. In the plains states, the Cenex stations typically had a little grill, and that's where we got a passable breakfast, either freshly prepared (bacon and eggs) or in the form of a breakfast sandwich. Sometimes we had the slice of pizza sitting under the warming light for lunch. A couple of times, we got a frozen burrito from the case and warmed it in the microwave before taking it back to our hotel room. I remember eating one of those while sitting on the floor of the store. It seems hard to believe if you are living in a city and have access to a car, but if you are staying the night in a ten-room motel off the back road somewhere, you may truly not have access to anything else within walking (or even cycling) distance.  
It'll keep you alive . . .

O Lord, please, NO!

I had the worst plate of spaghetti of my life in one of those places!  Oh, well. On that particular night, I told myself, "it's not cuisine - it's just calories!"  Thank goodness Domino's pizza delivers!  (By the way, if you are starved for vegetables, a pizza joint with a salad bar is not a bad option.  We would put together a nice plate with garbanzos, green peas, beets, carrots, celery, broccoli and cauliflower, sesame seeds - whether or not you get any lettuce you still can have something that has fiber and flavor!)

And, when we see a drive-in in the afternoon, particularly if it's hot, we love to stop for a shake or a float. 

I love my root beer floats

Beer is one of our favorite beverages, and it's so important to stay hydrated!  So being able to have a beer with dinner is a real plus. While we were traveling through Tennessee and Mississippi, we ran into a string of dry counties, which was a bummer. If not for the B and B hostess who thoughtfully left a couple of beers sitting in the hallway for us, we'd have gone a full week without a beer.  

Roger ponders

He had some great peaches!

Will stop for pie!
We look for pie when we stop, but it's just not all that common on dessert menus these days. Those of you who are following our Facebook posts probably have seen every pie we've eaten, but sadly, there are weeks that pass without pie.

BBQ chicken from the grocer for a picnic
When we cannot bear the thought of selecting one of the deep-fried goodies on offer at the convenience store, we hit the grocery store, and can usually find something like this picnic we made from the prepared BBQ chicken, baked beans and potato salad in Tishomingo. That was sort of a sad situation:  the campground was four miles from town, the first convenience store we passed was shuttered, the restaurant was closed, so it was grocery store or nothing. It turned out to be just fine. We had our picnic in the town park, then carried a few things back to camp to eat first thing in the morning before riding out in search of something more substantial.
Great meal at Glacier Nat Park
We have enjoyed some really fine meals. One of them was at the lodge in Glacier National Park. That was a feast. We also had great food at the B and B in Canada (I forget which port city it was, but I did include it already in the blog.) The larger cities all have fine restaurants, and so we treat ourselves with dinner and wine when we get there. Salud!

And from the sublime to the ridiculous - we have, on occasion, literally made sandwiches from our dehydrated peanut butter and eaten them while sitting on the side of the road.

We also enjoy carrying fresh fruit and eating it while we ride. I have it hanging from the handlebars, and pass a snack up to Roger as we roll along.  We've enjoyed cherrries, blackberries, tomatoes, plums and strawberries this way - all purchased from farm stands or picked along the way.

Peanut butter and crackers on the side of the road

Cherries in Michigan - eaten as we ride

156: Another pleasant valley Sunday

We attended church at St Paul's Methodist, where I sang in the choir for many years. This was such a special part of my life, and I am always happy to return and say hello to my friends. Silly me, I completely forgot to get my camera out to snap a picture of Frederica, Diane and Dick, Candy and Weir, and Larry - all of whom joined us for lunch after church.

Then we headed back up to Marguerite and Bruce's home, where we enjoyed a fantastic lamb bolognaise for dinner. We will miss our friends' excellent cooking when we head back into the land of convenience store pizza and Econo Lodge waffles!
St Paul's Methodist, where Roger and I were married
The church interior. Choir loft is below the organ

 And then, as the skies darkened and the clouds grew, I just had to take a shot (over the grocery parking lot, no less!) Because you just don't get better clouds than in Houston.

Five minutes later it was raining - in itself sort of a treat these days

155: Kissing cousins

For those of you who crave adventure and tales of the road - just bear with me another day or so!  After living in Houston for nearly 45 years, I have lots of friends and family in the area so we had some ground to cover in our "go visiting" agenda. Saturday I spent with my cousins Rita and Peyton, and Vic and Nancy, and then a couple more short visits with Rita's sons Ray and Ron.

And of course, we had some barbecue, because John and Linda were cooking up a storm while I was gallivanting around. So just a few more photos to share of family, food, and the fabulous clouds of the Gulf Coast region. Man, I don't think there's anyplace I've ever been that can whip up a skyscape to beat Houston's.
Linda's pies are always a hit
Home cooking is the best!

First - the smallest gathering to date of our once-monthly potluck social group. Linda and Josue were the originators of this bacchanalia, which waxed and waned as our friendships and partnerships came and went over the years.

Roger, Josue, Linda and John

Roger and I enjoyed catching up with cousins on Saturday.  Vic and Rita are my godparents, and special favorites.  Note the elegance of the antler chandelier - sort of a staple in Texas interiors!  The restaurant also displayed a poster with the boots made for President Truman by the Tony Lama Boot Company of El Paso, Texas.
Typical Texas decor

Famous boots made by Tony Lama
Rita and Peyton took me by to visit with their sons Ron and Ray, my second cousins. I used to babysit these guys!  Now they have little ones of their own. In fact, Ron and Molly just welcomed their second son, Hudson, two weeks ago. He was sleeping, so no photo for now.

We also had a visit with Ray and his wife Carolina.

Ray and Carolina

Ron and Molly

Ron and Grant, age 4

Nancy and Vic, Roger and Kathy, Peyton and Rita