Expedition 2016: T-15 to T-6; Flight to Florida, with a New Mexico Interlude

trackmytour_prelude_wWith our bicycle and camping gear safely off to Florida, by FedEx truck (arranged by BikeFlights), we crammed the remaining gear (helmets, front panniers, and water bottles) into a  duffel, along with baby and graduation gifts (quilts and hand-wovens), and stuffed our backpacks with our “street” clothes.  At the end of two busy days getting our new hall windows installed and the yard cleaned up for spring, our son picked us up for an overnight at his house in Olympia.  The next morning, our daughter-in-law and grandsons drove us to SEA-TAC and we were off on the first leg of our adventure.

Arriving in Albuquerque, we encountered our first major hurdle to septuagenarian high adventure: we were assigned a rental car with keyless ignition.  After fumbling with various attempts to decipher the not-so-helpful hieroglyphics on the panel display, without success, in the desert heat, I finally, at the prodding of my overheated stoker, shuffled to the attendants kiosk and inquired as to where to insert the crank to turn over the engine on this horseless carriage.

Rocky having a serious discussion with Mom (granddaughter Kalen), one of the few moments on our visit where anyone was still enough to be in focus and not blurred. Such is life in a big family…

Hieroglyphics explained, we were rewarded with the muted rumble of a surprisingly efficient internal combustion engine (yielding an average MPG almost as high as our new hybrid), and we were off to Santa Fe for a fun weekend visiting our granddaughter and the five great-grandchildren still living at home.  Our travels have become more convoluted as the family matures and scatters: retirement is necessary to have enough time to see everyone.  We also did get to take in, inadvertently, the Palm Sunday parade around the Plaza in Santa Fe, during our morning coffee run.

Palm Sunday in Santa Fe, with all the congregations from the downtown churches marching around the Plaza. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi is at the far right.

We headed south across the desert, bypassing the Monday morning traffic in Albuquerque for the quiet rural towns of Moriarty and Mountainair, re-joining the Interstate just north of Socorro, and leaving it again south of Truth or Consequences to travel the old road through Hatch and down the Rio Grande to Las Cruces.  Thanks to our youngest daughter, who arranged an impromptu family reunion at her new (to them) house, we saw most of the grandchildren and great-grandchildren Monday evening and made arrangements to visit more later in the week, along with those who couldn’t make it.

With the last of the Las Cruces family members imposed upon and gifts delivered, including  hand-woven baby blankets for our first great-great grandchild, due in August, and our latest great-grandchild (the 11th), born last month, we headed south to El Paso, Texas to visit our youngest granddaughter (27, but who has 2 brothers and 6 cousins younger) and youngest son (43, and youngest of 7 children as well), who live on opposite sides of the sprawling border city but cross paths each morning on the way to their respective workplaces.  They met us in the middle for an afternoon exploring the downtown cultural offerings, after which we checked out her new house and then into the sunset to our son’s house.

Judy, Zylania, and Jason at the plaza in downtown El Paso. The white building on the left is the venerable Plaza Theater.

In the morning, we drove into the sunrise to the airport, where we again had to ask directions to the well-hidden return area for our rental car (Payless recently opened an agency at ELP, and was using the Avis facilities, something the agent at ABQ failed to tell us).   After coffee at Starbucks, which occupies most of which was the original terminal when I first arrived in El Paso 49 years ago, we whisked through security relatively painlessly and were on our way to the next phase of our adventure. The rest of the children and grandchildren are in Wisconsin and Iowa, and we will have to wait to see them at the end of our bicycle expedition, more than 100 days from now, if all goes well.  Oh, one more prodigal son, in Roswell, but too far off the path to visit this time, so we have yet another road trip to look forward to next year.

Looking down at our granddaughter’s house (just above the open space in the center) as we climb out of ELP headed for DFW. When I flew over this area in a Piper Super Cub in 1967, for my first solo cross-country flight to an airport with a control tower, this was all sagebrush and desert.

After surviving the usual plane change at DFW, which always involves the longest possible inter-terminal train ride, we enjoyed an afternoon tour of the lower Mississippi and New Orleans from FL290, detouring around the line of thunderstorms that are sweeping the East Coast this time of year (something not to look forward to on a bicycle).  Our niece was waiting at the airport (MCO–we think it stands for “Mickey’s  Castle – Orlando,” in honor of the major industry here, the four Disney theme parks), soon reuniting us with our ground transport, still in its shipping cases.

What looks like a giant prehistoric predator rising from the Jurassic Park exhibit is actually a normal critter close to the camera lens. Judy is the photographer in the sun hat to the right, Our niece and her daughter are in the yellow and white ahead of the lady with the blue backpack.

Saturday, we decompressed a bit from our time-zone hopping with a trip to Disney Springs, my first ever visit to one of the lands of the Mouse, having been taught from an early age (well, teenage, when the first one opened) that the Disney parks weren’t for us ordinary folk.  Surprisingly, it looked like everywhere else, just all crammed together in a small space, with restaurants and shops intermingled with movie merchandise stores and movie-themed entertainment. And lots and lots of people.  I’m sure we’ll see more later in the week, as our Orlando relatives all are in the “biz,” from restaurateuring to designing and overseeing the manufacture of the branded merchandise sold at the parks.  Getting a tour of the shops with an “insider” view of the process of getting quality products that showcase and respect the branding was fascinating–not unlike the technical and business processes for creating software and computers, with which I am familiar.  Indeed, one of my software design courses in grad school used movie-making as a model for the process.

Our first example of Florida spring weather. This time of year is characterized by thunderstorms and heavy downpours. We have three days riding in rural areas with little shelter, so watching the weather before departing is crucial to having a nice day.

The rest of this week will be spent in visiting with family, putting the bicycle together, arranging for Warm Showers hosts and/or campgrounds and motels to the north, and planning around predicted weather events, as well as getting used to the heat and humidity.

Expedition 2016: Final preparation. T-18 days to start of ride.


Monday, March 14 — Pi day, three days before we leave on our long, meandering way to Florida: our first night will be at our son’s house in Olympia, by walking and bus, then to the airport the next morning.  We are leaving our car at home, and the bicycle ships on Tuesday, along with our cycling clothing and camping gear.  Our first week, we will travel with only our electronics and off-bike clothing, plus a few items that wouldn’t fit in the bicycle cases or gear bag, flying to Albuquerque, then rental car to Santa Fe, Las Cruces, and El Paso, and thence by air to Orlando, where we should find our bicycle and gear waiting for us, to be assembled and tested during our visit with our niece and family.

Camping and biking gear. The red trunk bag and black handlebar bag ended up in the bicycle cases, and the black panniers at the top with helmets inside) ended up in a separate checked bag

The past few weeks have been spent getting our gear together; packing the trailer to make sure we have room inside for everything; testing our new sleeping bag–we ended up ordering inflatable pillows. But, we relented and packed Judy’s regular camp pillow after testing the new pillows–they help, but aren’t quite “just right.”  In compensation, we reduced some redundancy in bicycle clothing.  Judy got a new, larger handlebar bag for her birthday, a gift from the children, which will hold her electronics and map book.

Bicycle packed in the red cases (which combine to create a two-wheel trailer), camping gear and bike clothes in the bag, which will go into the trailer when the bicycle is assembled.  Total weight, 78 kg (172 lb), plus our “street clothes” and electronics, which will be in separate bags.  Shipping cost with BikeFlights is almost $200, but cheaper than paying at least $150 for each leg of our flights, plus hauling the bulk around New Mexico for a week on the way.  For this trip, we used bubble wrap (disposable) for the bike, rather than give up storage space for the felt bags and blankets that Bike Friday supplies.

Our trip planning has gotten detailed, picking potential hosts to contact along the way, alternate lodging choices, and re-routing to avoid dangerous roads, long bridges, and back-to-back long rides.  Still, there are still some 90+ km stretches, some in hilly country, and a lot of no-shoulder busy roads, particularly in the southern states.  We probably haven’t scheduled enough rest days, trying to stage them in cities with attractions, with exception of one half-way up the one mountain pass on the route.

The last item on our gear list was to test our new Primus mini-stove.  It looks like 30 grams of fuel to bring one liter of water to a boil, or about 20 minutes cooking time per 100 grams of fuel.  We will need to buy fuel when we arrive and estimate how much we need to carry to get to the next outdoor store, as we go.  In a pinch, we can always make a beer-can stove, using gas-line anti-freeze as fuel, available at gas stations, at least everywhere here in the Northwest.  So far, we have only a half-dozen campground nights scheduled, but will need to use the tent in back yards at some of the Warm Showers stays.

Meanwhile, at home, we are making arrangements for lawn care, house-sitter, and getting repairs done.  Our new custom upstairs hall windows are due to be installed Tuesday, if the weather clears, and try once more to tighten up joints to stop a persistent drip from the laundry room sink drain.  We hope to get at least one more stationary bike workout before we head out for a week of visiting family in the Southwest.