From February 12, 2010

From Texas to the Most Southern Tip in North America...Key West

Now to the "big easy" to see my cousin, Russ, in New Orleans.

It was downhill to sea level. That was good, I think. When we saw the sign upon entering Louisiana, the American Wetland, we needed to take it figuritively. The roads had many, many long and very narrow bridges. These bridges were not suitable at all for bicycles but it was the only road available to us. We had a very terrifying experience crossing the bridge east of Lake Charles. There was no shoulder at all and it was in heavy afternoon traffic (including many semis). Our only solution to cross the bridge was to take the very narrow walkway on the left side of the bridge going against traffic. It was too narrow to ride and almost too narrow to push the bikes and the trailer. At times I feared the rear wheel of the trailer would drop off the 12 inch curb into the oncoming traffic. The 2 mile walk took at least one hour and our nerves were rattled from all the semis and cars .

We saw how they re-flooded the rice fields and were now raising craw fish in the rice stubble. But, we hit it perfect if we wanted to see typical Louisiana flooding. New Orleans had set all time records for the most rain during December with 22.24 inches of rain. This was accomplished by December 15, 2009! So, obviously it was impossible for us camp. When we stayed in Raceland, LA (in a hotel) we got 8 inches of rain over night. Boats were floating in back yards, houses and roads were under water and they were sand bagging everywhere. Welcome to America's wetland.

Our time in New Orleans was highlighted with my cousin Russ and his wife, Angela. Russ organized some speaking engagements for us: three schools, one Rotary Club, and one Book Club. The three different schools came from different areas of the city. I think we were most impressed and affected by the inner city school and how well that school was run. Previously, I had prejudices about the inner city schools. I thought the students would be out of control and teachers would be unable to teach them. I was wrong.

We learned that Hurricane Katrina represented a moment in time. People would refer to a date as either "before Katrina" or "after Katrina". We stood in some areas of New Orleans and Louisiana where the water had been 28 feet deep. We heard many people's personal stories. It was all so real.

Our time in New Orleans was topped off with Angela taking us on a walking tour of the Christmas lights, some wonderful Cajun cuisine followed by Bourbon Street jazz. Does it get any better than this?

Our next mission was to get to Orlando by Dec. 29th.

We are going to have to ride 620 miles in 11 days allowing one day off for Christmas. We celebrated Christ's birthday in Tallahassee.

We were driven to get to Orlando by the 29th because that's when our friends, the Putnams, were going to be there. What we didn't know was that the Wisconsin Badgers were going to be playing in the Champ Bowl in Orlando also on the 29th. This was too coincidental since Jacky is an alumni of UW-Madison. Of course we had to participate in the tailgating and luckily, the Badgers won! We met the Putnams the next day and enjoyed a great and busy day at Sea World.

Next destination. ..Key West. On our way we celebrated New Years Eve in St.Cloud, Florida at their local VFW. Nothing too crazy but a night of dancing and revelry.

We also took advantage of our "warm showers" membership. This is a hospitality organization where other bicyclists offer to let you stay at their house. Lynne Daniels from Jupiter and Ryan Olson from Boca Raton both housed us and not only provided a place to lay our heads but also offered us a great meal and good conversation.

January 6, we left Miami and headed to the Florida Keys. Ralph and Louise, our friends from Sweden, arrived in the U.S. that day. We met them 2 1/2 years ago when we were camping in Germany. They were camping next to us. After they learned about our route they invited us to their place in Sweden. We did take them up on this offer as we cycled through Sweden a couple weeks later. About six months ago Ralph sent me some money to enjoy some beers in Key West on him. My reply was, "Ralph, why don't you and Louise meet us there and help us drink them?" The next email we received was their flight itinerary. Now, 2 1/2 years later we were going to have the opportunity to spend 3 warm beautiful Florida days with them in the Keys.

All good plans have some wrinkles...first off, the airlines lost their luggage. So, they had to stick around Miami an extra day waiting to retrieve it. Then, the beautiful warm Florida days that we were all envisioning turned out to be cold, windy and rainy ones. Florida was actually experiencing record lows. In fact, it even snowed in Orlando. Remember, no hotels have heat. We are always determined to have fun so we made the best of it. Our plan was to bike from Marathon to Key West on Jan. 9th. However, that day was very blustery with down pour rains and wind. Not conducive to biking across numerous bridges totally exposed to the elements of the ocean. And, because Ralph and Louise had to leave the Keys on Jan. 10th (a day earlier than we had thought) we decided to take a shuttle to Key West, spend the day there with them, return to Marathon that night and then actually bike to Key West on the 10th as they headed back to the mainland. The four of us had a great time hitting the touristy establishments. The places were packed with people since the weather was so horrible nobody wanted to be outdoors. We found many of the places had webcam in their bars and restaurants. So, we texted our family and some of them saw us over the internet having fun in Key West. That's technology for you.

The next day, Jan. 10th, Ralph and Louise left the Keys and headed to the Grand Canyon. As for us, we needed to hit the road and make it to Key West on bike. We were determined to dip our tires in the ocean at the very tip. It wasn't raining on this day but very, very windy. Jacky was a little anxious about crossing the bridges with such high winds and gusts. One bridge alone was 7 miles long. We headed out. The winds on the bridges were very challenging and we actually had to lean into them. Our bikes were at 45 degree angles. There were two bridges where the winds were so strong they were blowing Jacky into the lane of traffic. She was forced to get off her bike and walk two of the bridges. We finally made it to Key West just in time for the Green Bay Packer playoff game. We got a hotel room and soon realized they don't have heat in Key West. The weather is not suppose to be in the 50s. We watched the game in wool hats, sweatshirts with the hoods pulled up and sleeping bags wrapped around us...inside our room. We are at the most southern point in North America, only 90 miles from Cuba. There's something wrong with this picture. The next day we went to the most southern point and looked out towards Cuba. We also watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The sun looks like a huge ball falling into the ocean. Many local artists have stands in the square and musicians provide entertainment as you anticipate the sunset.

From Key West we headed back to Orlando where we would set up base for 2 months, hopefully get work, and wait for the weather to warm up along the east coast.

Florida is cold but as we watch the weather in your area we find we are still in the warmest part of the US. Stay warm.

Ward and Jacky