Some time has passed since the last travel update on SeizeTheWorld.com, and much has happened since then! As many of you know, the nature of the ride – at least in many ways – is to hop from town to town in search of wireless internet connections so that I can post to this website. I am now in Birmingham, Alabama, and circumstances find me at last in a situation with an internet connection and the time to use it. The road from Little Rock, Arkansas, to Birmingham, Alabama has taken me through many interesting places. The largest of them is, of course, Memphis, Tennessee. I also passed through such places as Des Arc, AR, Cotton Plant, AR, Wynne, AR, Holly Springs, Mississippi, Tupelo, MS, Hamilton, Alabama, Guinn, AL, Gu-Winn, AL, (separate towns), and Carbon Hill, AL. My escapades with flat tires continued, although now I seem to be fixing flat tires on cars more than bikes…which is a good thing!
The highlight of the trip from Little Rock to Birmingham was, without a doubt, the fact that my friend Keith Williams, who you may recall from the last post, joined me along the way for three days. He drove out to meet me one of two Waffle Houses (that I know about) in Bartlett, Tennessee. Bartlett is a northeastern suburb of Memphis, and was also the site of an STW slide show the night before Keith drove out to join me on the road. Unfortunately, we did not have an audience for our slide show in Bartlett, which took place at the Bartlett Branch Library, and those of you who have been following the progress of our slide show efforts know that it has been difficult at times to round up audiences for our presentations! C’est la vie. This is a model that we are working hard to improve, and it is my hope that by the time I am in Spain we will have a public relations model that is more efficient than what we are using now. More details to come about public relations as they become available…
Returning to the road, and to the southern Bartlett Waffle House Branch, Keith and I began our journey South at about 11:30 a.m. on Friday morning once he had arrived from Little Rock. We drove a few miles to Collierville, where we dropped the car – a Honda Element – at his girlfriend Murry’s brother’s house, and began pedaling. Keith had a rear rack attached to his old Austro Daimler (Puch) racing bike, as well as a small backpack which, together, were sufficient to carry his gear. A fairly light setup as he was not carrying food, stove, etc. We were planning to camp if necessary, but stay in hotels if possible during this stretch. So, when we reached Holly Springs about 30 miles later, and found the Magnolia Inn, we decided that this the hot ticket in Holly Springs. At 1 in the morning when the high schoolers in the room next door were still playing drums, literally, and getting in and out of their cars, my thoughts were slightly different. However, at 1:06, they all took off…another party perhaps?
Before experiencing, for a couple of hours, the lives of our neighbors at the Magnolia, Keith and I had the opportunity to speak with some Holly Springs locals at the bar across the street. The bar is called Good Fellas, it opened about six weeks ago, and it has some pretty good food. I took the opportunity to speak with a guy named Mr. Ed about his experiences working abroad in Asia, and Keith took the opportunity to speak, at length, about directions to a campsite near Tupelo with another guy named Dale, who manages the Huddle House in Tupelo (kind of like the Waffle House, only not). I learned during the three days I spent on the road with Keith that he would take pretty much any opportunity to speak at length about directions. After several beers and a couple of delicious burgers, we returned to the Magnolia, and to the noise. If we had known earlier what we were going to be in for, we might have stayed at Good Fellas. The following day saw us on the road headed Southeast at about 10a.m. I pretty much just sat on Keith’s wheel all the way to Tupelo. It was wonderful. We averaged about 14 mph or so, but there were parts that were quite a bit faster – 18, 19, 20 for long stretches. I would pull for parts, but Keith would invariably come up alongside for conversation, at which point, I couldn’t resist the temptation to fall in and draft (and to minimize the risk to Keith of getting picked off by a truck!) There’s something to me that just doesn’t feel natural about riding abreast…perhaps if I had a mirror. So it wound up playing itself out that Keith pulled me across most of the Tennessee phase of the ride, and almost all of the Mississippi phase as well. It was awesome. I told him while we were riding that it was just so nice to be able to sit in for awhile…you don’t quite realize how great it is to be able to sit in until you’ve been riding alone for a month and a half.
When Keith and I arrived in Tupelo, Mississippi, we were fortunate to spot a bike shop as we rode past. We swung by to say hello. The shop, Trails & Treads, had employees who were kind enough to allow us to use their internet connection to find a hotel, and even to be coached (by Keith) through booking an online reservation at the Hilton in Tupelo. It was incredible. They also told us that Vanilla Ice would be performing live at a local bar that evening – Benjamin’s – for $20. In retrospect, we probably should’ve gone to check out Vanilla Ice…However, we opted for a bar called The Stables, which had a fairly steady crowd and a good atmosphere for a Saturday night. We also had the pleasure of having a great conversation with a local couple from Tupelo, one of whom really wants to make it out to Telluride – my home town – for the Telluride Blues and Brews festival. There was also a blues cover guitarist performing at The Stables who had some mad skills. But now I will always wonder – what if I’d gone to see Vanilla Ice?? Decisions…
Keith and I returned to our hotel, once again after several beers, although this time to much-nicer accommodation than the previous night (thanks Keith!). The following morning was quite brisk, and very grey. It was one of the more-bleak days of the tour up to date actually. Keith rode with me as far as Fulton, Mississippi where his girlfriend Murry had driven good-naturedly to meet us along the road to take Keith home – about four and a half hours to Little Rock. It was great to see Murry one more time before continuing East on my journey, and I was thrilled that Keith was able to ride for a portion of the tour with me. This is the kind of thing that I had hoped might happen at the outset of Seize The World (i.e. people coming out to ride support and to share the adventure) and to have it actually happen is pretty incredible. Keith also donated a sleeping pad and a pump that I have in my panniers right now, which is great – a longer, warmer, version of the Big Agnes Pad I was using initially, and a Topeak Turbo Morph “Master Blaster” (I know!) pump which is certainly a step up from the piece of junk I was carrying before. The pump is an important piece of equipment for me considering the rate at which I get flats – in fact, I have one right now as I type this in my hotel room. It will have to be fixed with the Turbo Morph before I can ride tomorrow.
Once Keith, Murry and I parted ways in Fulton, I was on my own again. This time, however, it wasn’t the same kind of euphoric liberation that I felt as I put in my headphones when parting ways with another friend, David, outside Dolores, as he went toward Death Valley, and I began my trip around the world. This time, it just felt like getting on the bike and riding out of a Wendy’s parking lot, one more day on the bike. Then as I rode down the highway out of Fulton, the cars disappeared, the wind whipped a little bit, and it got cold. My iPod was uncomfortably loud, and the buzzing noise that the left headphone has been making for the past three weeks was bothering me on this day. I started taking a lot of breaks and progress was slow. By the time I reached Hamilton, Alabama, I had gone through about four second winds, ditched the iPod, and entered a new phase. My incentive during the later parts of the day was the hope that there might be a movie theater in Hamilton when and if I arrived there at the end of the day. By the time that happened at about 6:30 (after an hour and a half of riding in the dark) I was very happy to discover the Dixie Cinema 3 movie theater. I saw Bolt there. I often look forward to arriving in cities with movie theaters.
After the movie, I rode out into Hamilton, and began down the highway toward Guin, the first town along the route I planned to take the next day. When I spotted a Wal Mart, I felt really happy – they are not only great places to camp (they usually have large swaths of undeveloped, and unobserved land behind them) but they also have floor pumps for sale inside which I am more than happy to test out. Because in addition to being a journey of hops between wireless internet connections, this is also a journey of hops between floor pump access points. Conventional thinking has us think that bike shops are the only place to find floor pumps. However, I am learning that there are many more places to find floor pumps outside the realm of local bike shops. Most of these places are in the towns along my route which are least likely to have a bike shop. Convenient. In fact, it seems that bicycle shops only represent a tiny fraction – if a high quality fraction – of the United States’ floor pump capacity. Floor pump locations I’ve found so far include Wal-Mart (Supercenters only) K-Mart, Sports Authority, and Dicks Sporting Goods. I’m sure that I will learn more about the nation’s floor pump network as I gain experience… However, I now find myself on the verge of leaving the United States on my way to Europe, where I will have to learn about an entirely new network of floor pumps. So exciting.
As it turns out, the Wal-Mart that I’d spotted in Hamilton was actually an abandoned location, so I made do with the Turbo Morph and held out until a later opportunity to tap into the floor pump network. On the bright side, the camping behind the abandoned Wal Mart was all the better for its vacancy – no idling semis, no shipments, no cars, total silence. Beautiful camping with the bulk of an abandoned Wal Mart building to shield me from the noise of the highway.
The following morning, I awoke to driving rain. My response was to move slowly, as though eating breakfast at a snail’s pace would make it go away. This was not the case. By the time 11:30 rolled around, it was still raining. Hard. I got on my bike and started to ride. After about two hours, it let up, and the sun came out. Then I experienced some of the most beautiful foggy conditions I’ve seen, on my bike or otherwise.
Each divet in the rumble strip was a beautiful reflecting pool full of calm water, and there was mist all over the place as the sun was setting. Pretty neat. Once it became dark, I pulled off to find my next campsite, not too far from Carbon Hill, Alabama. Then, a Sheriff, or a deputy, not sure which, stopped his car, turned on his spotlight and asked me all about what I was doing, where I was going, etc. It was actually somewhat similar to any number of encounters I’ve had with any number of people on the trip – the main difference being that the Sheriff/deputy was shining a blinding light in my eyes the whole time. Eventually he recommended the Shadowbrook Inn beyond Carbon Hill, and let me be on my way. I pulled back on to the road for another mile or so just for good measure, and then pitched my tent.
After one more day of riding, with an increasingly dense volume of truck traffic on my side, I have found myself at the Days Inn west of Birmingham, Alabama. Similar to my situation in Little Rock, I don’t know much about this city, except to say that it has a rich history from a civil rights point of view. I will post more about what I learn about Birmingham and my experiences here in the next update. Until then, I would like to say thanks to all of you who are reading for reading and for being an active part of Seize The World!