on the res

Lufkin → Lake Tombigbee → Port Arthur

Ah, finally i had a day in East Texas that didn't feel like a chore. I still got chased by a couple of dogs, but this time it was literally only a couple, and they gave up quick.

I headed into Lufkin in the morning where i found a Mexican bakery and got some pan dulces. I don't know the names of all of them, but they were all yummy, and a nice change from the donuts i have been forcing down every morning for cheap calorie purposes and little else.

I headed down the highway to Corrigan where i stopped for tacos at a mercado. At this point i'm actually looking out for non-Mexican places to eat to try make the Texas food post a little more interesting, but often in the small towns the only place that's open that isn't a chain restaurant is Mexican. Although still on my to-do list before leaving Texas is breakfast tacos. Apparently that's a thing here. I need to get them when i am camped in town somewhere.

But it's after Corrigan when things got interesting. Both Google Maps and OpenStreetMap pointed me down a back road to get to my destination - Lake Tombigbee on the Alabama-Coushatta Nation. I started down the road, which was a broad dirt road at the beginning, until suddenly it wasn't. In fact, the road disappeared completely and there was just an overgrown path heading into the pine forest. I ventured down there a little bit, but it started getting so overgrown i was worried about ticks or poisonous spiders, so i backed out and tried to find another route.

Fortunately all of the other roads that appeared on the map were actually navigable roads, although it was clear from the tracks that the only things navigating them since last rainfall had been ATVs.

Friends, i found myself in the middle of a hunting forest. I am very glad it wasn't the weekend, because i passed a half dozen private hunting camps with large "no trespassing" and "members only" signs. If you're wondering what a hunting camp is, good, because i had no idea either. It's a bunch of RVs parked in a ring in a forest clearing, like circled wagons. Ominous sign out the front. I imagine lots of ammo boxes nearby, but i didn't stop to check. As far as i could tell, nobody was home, presumably due to all the weekend hunters being back at work. There were trails criss-crossing the forest, some that showed up on my map as roads, and others that were just random ATV routes. Hunting blinds were set up on almost every power line or oil pipeline right-of-way. There were some private homes too, probably owned by the guys who rent out their land to the hunters. Google Maps told me one place was a gun dealer ("by appointment only").

As i zoomed through the forest, occasionally getting stuck in the soft sand, it occurred to me that hunters should really get into cycling. Imagine riding a fat bike through these forests! The only sound would be the hiss of the tires. They could carry bows instead of guns too. Sleep in hammocks. Silent fucking killer. These dudes could be like ninjas, or like the Predator. But - judging by the tracks and the litter - i imagine that instead they stink up the place with their ATV fumes and then crack and bang all morning with their rifles before heading back to camp to get drunk. Oh well.

Eventually i found my way out of the maze of twisty passages, and got back onto a sealed road. Then it was a short ride down to the rez where i checked in to the best campsite i have stayed at in Texas by far. It has dozens of tent camping spots, but i'm the only one in the primitive section tonight. ("Primitive camping" is the North American term for camping in a tent without an electric hookup. You know. What the rest of the world just calls "camping".)

It is extremely quiet and peaceful here. No highway noise. No party campers. Pine trees all around. I even have 3 bars of 4G reception. The toilets are clean. I think i'm going to have a good night.

-o-

Woo, this morning was wild. I woke up and it was still dark, because i was in the damn forest. Got out of the tent and the humidity was so thick you could practically wave your hand through the mist and snatch rain drops out of the air. There was no point waiting for the sun, so i had a quick breakfast, packed up and got back on the road.

To get to my next stop (somewhere around Beaumont), i needed to cycle through the Big Thicket. I turned onto a back road and plunged into the woods. It really felt like i was going into the heart of darkness. Dirt road. Deep forest on both sides. Hot, steamy fog, crushing you into the Earth. It was incredible. All the spider webs were shining with the heavy dew. Occasionally a logging truck rolled past. Otherwise, silence. Like i had been transported somewhere different entirely.

Even once i got onto a sealed road again, i pretty much didn't pop out anywhere near civilization for around 50km. The Big Thicket is thick and it is big. It is a dense jungle of pines and oaks and other flora, with a few swampy creeks running through it.

I mean, there are a couple of houses and settlements. I passed one place that actually had a school, but it was the creepiest school of all time due to the sign out the front: "our teachers will use necessary force to defend our students", which is a euphemism for "our teachers carry guns and shoot to kill". To most people in developed countries that must sound like part of a chilling long read about underground women's schools in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, but in Bizarro World America putting guns in every classroom is somehow a "solution" to school shootings. Dear lord, if i had kids and my school district decided to institute a teachers carry guns policy i'd be moving them the fuck out of there quicksmart.

When i did pop out at a community that actually had a restaurant, i ducked in for lunch. It was an American restaurant with a southern/Cajun bent. I got a catfish po' boy, which is a type of sandwich from Louisiana. It was pretty good, but the real star was the fried mushrooms i got as the starter. They were thin sliced and had some texture to them, almost like a shiitake. I was very surprised to get something more interesting than a button mushroom.

The restaurant was in a town with something like 25% non-white residents, but everyone in the restaurant was white, which always makes me ponder. Then i saw the life-sized Trump cardboard cutout on the wall. And the TV tuned to Fox News, with closed-captioning, so diners wouldn't miss a minute of the propaganda.

The Trump worship out here is so weird. I don't know if these self-proclaimed freedom-loving patriots understand just how very much they look like the true believers in China who have pictures of Mao on the walls, and who leave the TV tuned to the propaganda networks to make sure everyone knows just how dedicated they are to bootlicking. It's so strange to encounter this sort of behavior outside of an authoritarian regime.

Anyway, i tipped well and then squatted outside trying to figure out if i should go to Beaumont or push on to Port Arthur. My original plan was to camp overnight in an RV park in Beaumont, then dodge the rain in a short and sweet cycle down to Port Arthur - which is only about 30km down the road - to stay in a motel before attempting the lonely road to Cameron, Louisiana. But the more i looked at the forecast, i just decided fuck it, i'll stay two nights in a motel. I don't want to get caught out like i did in Kansas if the storm arrives earlier than the 10am prediction. So i split the difference and headed for a motel strip near the airport, right on the edge of a neighboring town called Nederland.

The ride involved some hairy highway cycling (although i am fairly comfortable cycling busy highways after living in China) before the directions took me off down some Beaumont back roads. I didn't see a single white person in Beaumont. I don't know if that's because by avoiding the main thoroughfares and downtown area i avoided the neighborhoods where white people live, or if it's because white people never get out of their cars, but it did strike me as odd. I've heard some towns in the US are still very racially segregated, so perhaps that's what i was seeing.

After Beaumont, i booked it to Nederland along a mostly-empty strip of highway next to the railroad, which took me past a bunch of oil stuff, canals filled to the brim with fast-flowing water, and what appeared to be a prison. It's a strange landscape. A few houses are built on stilts, but only piddling stilts a few inches off the ground. Given how often hurricanes hit this part of the world i'm surprised they don't build several feet off the ground like houses in Australia.

Anyway, checked into the motel, walked to the gas station for some booze, ordered (American) Chinese food. I'm going to take a relaxation day tomorrow and watch the storm go by, then we'll see.

-o-

In other news, Y: The Last Man has been canceled after one season. I'm pretty bummed. It's the first show that got canceled since Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles that i really wish would've gotten a longer run (at least The Expanse got saved). I like that the TV show added a main character who is trans, and i like that the concept as a whole puts a gendered spin on the classic post-apocalypse yarn. I'm not sure if the audience really gets it. Perhaps following the glacial character growth of the last (pathetic) man left in the world isn't woke enough for modern progressives. It might've done better coming out 10 years ago.

I'm thinking about it because i'm in Nederland, which when i looked up on Wikipedia i discovered that sci-fi writer John Varley went to school here. His book Steel Beach was one of my favorite sci-fi books as a teen. It features a main character who changes their sex in a world where sex changes are unremarkable and gender in general is kind of amorphous. I'm sure modern-day readers would find some shit to complain about - not least the fact that, much like Y: The Last Man, it's written by a cis man - but it meant a lot to me. And not just me, one of the trans people i helped through their early transition back when i was still engaged in "the community" also found it really impactful. The whole idea is that gender - and sex - is bullshit. It's just, like, whatever. It shouldn't be a big deal when people change it. It's like changing your hair color, or your clothing, or getting a tattoo. It doesn't lean into the "born this way" narrative, which probably makes it problematic nowadays too. It's a world where anyone can be whoever they want, whenever they want, and they can change their minds if they like, or not, and that's okay. I think the people who make a big fuss over men are men and women are women or even trans women are women are all missing the point. Just let people be people. Treat them how they want to be treated. It's that simple.

Another sci-fi book that was incredibly impactful for me as a kid was Dune. It's also been criticized in the modern era for being too male-centered or written as a milquetoast criticism of colonialism through the eyes of colonizer, or what the fuck ever. But it mattered to me as a kid. It really shaped me. I've recited the Litany Against Fear. I've tried to walk arhythmically in the desert sand. I saw it as an epic story about the dangers of blind faith, how messiahs - or anyone elevated to a position of power - will always fuck it up. Organized religion is always a sham. Leaders will always use the people who follow them, chew them up and spit them out. And, through it all, native ecosystems and the culture of indigenous peoples will be disrupted, corrupted or destroyed. They're themes that are touched on in Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series too, and plenty of other "environmentalist" sci-fi since. I feel like Frank Herbert kickstarted that whole genre.

And tomorrow i will go watch the second movie adaptation in the theater. Here's hoping my hangover isn't too bad to enjoy it. Although, oddly, the movies i most remember watching in the theaters were the ones i got too drunk to remember the movie, i just remember having a very silly time with friends.

Now i have no friends.

It is very late (early) and i am drunk. I never stay up late in my tent. Having electricity, a light and an internet connection changes my whole pattern of being. I don't think it's for the better.

-o-

It's just past 8:30am. I only slept 4 hours. Apparently my brain is still tuned to wake up at sunrise regardless. I got a bit of motel breakfast and then came back up here to watch some TV and... boom. Fucking weather alert on my phone. Tornado watch. Take shelter. The thunder is rolling and the rain is pouring. I am very glad i got into a motel for today. It's just a baby storm, though, so it should clear up in time to catch the Dune matinée. I should probably try snatch a few more hours sleep.

-o-

I did not snatch a few hours more sleep. Around 1pm i got tired of waiting for the storm to pass, so i put on my "i lived in Guangdong, ffs" pants, rolled them up, donned flip-flops and splashed my way through the puddles to the only place within a 2km radius that was not a chain. It was a Vietnamese hole in the wall in a strip mall past the mall mall, and their food was excellent. No tofu, unfortunately, but i had a char siu bánh mì and two thịt nướng spring rolls and they were glorious. Fresh, flavorful, wonderfully satisfying. When i went to pay i talked a bit with the waiter about my bike tour and then she started bubbling on about some dude she met on Instagram who has promised to be her sugar daddy when he gets out of the military. I feel like i keep meeting wait staff who are on much better drugs than me and i am jealous.

Then i walked to Walmart to try get supplies, and this Walmart was even sadder than the last three i have visited. I don't know what is going on in East Texas that their Walmarts are so thinly stocked. I saw a bit of the supply chain shortage up in Minnesota, but then for several weeks i had no problems finding anything. Now it's back again. It really seems to be a localized problem - not specific to certain stores, but specific to certain geographic regions. I guess it makes sense that places like Iowa and Kansas are fully-stocked, since pretty much all the truck traffic in America goes through there.

And then i hiked back to the shopping mall near the motel to watch Dune. Fucking. This has to be the worst place i have ever stayed in my life for pedestrians. Occasionally there is a sidewalk, but then it just ends at the end of whatever property decided to build a sidewalk and goes back to grass - sometimes maintained, sometimes not. There are no pedestrian crossings anywhere, and the roads are all two or three lanes each way. Wait, there is actually a pedestrian crossing under the highway, but it's the most absurd pedestrian crossing of all time, because it doesn't actually link up to any sidewalks. It's almost as if they just put the pedestrian lights in as a package deal, knowing that nobody will ever use them. The mall parking lot is almost a kilometer across, and almost completely empty of cars. And, after the storm, there were huge moats of water around most of the properties that made it impractical to cross, even with my pants rolled up and wearing flip-flops. I went through enough ankle-deep puddles on the edge of the road. It's just... insane. Like, completely and utterly pedestrian-hostile, in every way you can imagine.

But then i got into the mall itself, and half the stores in there were vacant. It was like walking around in a zombie movie. I spent 10 minutes walking up and down the mall looking for the movie theater, and when i finally found it, all the lights were off and there was no one at the ticket or popcorn counter. I could have just walked into a movie for free, but i felt weird, so i just wandered around with a baffled look on my face, in my wet, dripping flip-flops clutching a plastic bag of peanuts, dehydrated fruit and palanquetas. Finally a guy showed up and sold me a ticket to Dune, which had started 15 minutes earlier, but he assured me it'd still be previews. I went into the theater and i was the only person in the whole place. Like, the entire showing was just for me. I started at my assigned seat in the middle, but after about 5 minutes moved right front and center to get an IMAX-like private screening experience.

The movie was pretty good, although i wish they'd filmed the whole first book and not just left you hanging. I also think they missed a chance to do some really epic sunset cinematography. A lot of my Dune visual references come from the first computer game, which was a stunningly beautiful game at the time it came out in 1992, and still looks (and sounds) great today. It featured a really bold color palette inspired by the Lynch movie mixed with the sort of heavy-on-the-magenta raster bar-like skies that were popular in the computer graphics of the era. The spice was a rich orange, the eyes an electric blue, the skies - huge. Vast. A million different colors. It really was a world you could get lost in. But Villeneuve's Dune is much whiter and more stark, everything is pale and washed-out, and there are more sand shots than sky shots, which loses so much of what makes the desert magical. I think the lack of color makes it difficult for viewers to understand how the offworlders come to fall in love with Arrakis, in spite of its unforgiving environment. Dull cinematography aside, it was still cool to see a big budget take on the story, and i am glad i saw it in the theater. The sound effects were incredible, probably the best part of the film.

I grabbed a vege burger and fries for dinner, and now i'm back in bed planning to get a much longer sleep tonight than i did last night. I've been keeping an eye on the severe weather alerts for the Gulf Coast, and although there are gale warnings for sailors, i think cycling along 82 tomorrow should be reasonably safe (if a little gusty). There is pretty much nothing along that road until i get to Cameron, and by all accounts Cameron is a town that's been flattened by hurricanes over and over so there isn't much there either, but i am hoping it will be an exciting trip and that i can find a place to sleep down there. In the (sole) expensive motel, if all else fails. I just think that route will be more interesting than taking the inland highway, even if it's not the safest option.

Famous last words, i suppose.

I kinda hoped this motel stop would've uncovered some more interesting stuff to see for my last day in Texas, but all the motels around here are situated in utterly useless places for sightseeing on foot. Honestly, my review of Texas on a bike is "don't fucking bother", because although there have been some neat sections here and there that you probably wouldn't get to see in a car, it feels like so much more of the ride has been long highway stretches or smaller roads where you're unable to stop anyway due to all the aggressive dogs. And then you finally do find a safe place to pitch a tent, but then you're miles away from any kind of shops, restaurants or culture. Truly a hideously car-first part of the country.

I'll see if i can get another picture post in tomorrow morning before i go.
on the res

it was ok picture post

It's been so long since my last non-food picture post, i was thinking of rolling Oklahoma and Texas together in one bumper edition, but looking back now i want to give Oklahoma its own entry. I didn't take a lot of photos cycling through the state, but i hope this gives you a bit of an idea of what i came across.



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Going through Oklahoma i found it a bit frustrating to find campsites, and i got a bit annoyed when a dog or two chased me down the road. But that was before i got to Texas, where it became much more frustrating to find campsites, and where dozens of dogs have chased me down the road. So, on reflection, Oklahoma wasn't so bad.

I am currently taking shelter in a motel from the storm passing across Texas. We're on tornado watch, but it doesn't look too bad out there. I think i will go out to the movies in a bit to see Dune.
on the res

Hawkins → Lake Jacksonville → Lufkin

I am back in a KOA, just off the highway outside of Lufkin. I originally wanted to go to Nacogdoches because a) it has a fun name to say, and b) it's the only town i know in East Texas, primarily due to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, but i couldn't find a campsite. I think i have just about given up on finding any cheap campsites in this part of Texas. Maybe any part of Texas.

This state ain't a real whole lot of fun. My only memory of Texas is from about 10 years ago (?) when i took the Amtrak to Dallas, visited a gay bar, rented a car, drove to Austin, hung out there for a bit, then visited San Antonio and did a Hill Country tiki tour, and pretty much everything was awesome. Friendly people. Great tacos. Epic views. Quirky towns that all had their own character and something to see. This part of Texas is not that.

When i left you i was at a glampsite for Jesus in the woods around Hawkins. I headed into town, where i don't remember doing anything in particular so it probably wasn't very exciting. I cycled on down to Tyler, which i think might be the biggest city i have visted in Texas yet. It didn't give a great impression because i got attacked by dogs again.

I mean. Let's be real. I am getting attacked by dogs multiple times a day, every day, in Texas. It's absolutely insane. I have cycled in Taiwan, and in Turkey, both countries where there are legit wild dogs, and i have never had to deal with as much bullshit as i have in Texas. I've faced down motherfucking coyotes, in the flesh, looking right at me. Foxes. I've heard hyenas and wolves. All of these wild dogs just sit on their territory and stare you down, daring you to take a step closer. You may or may not win the intimidation battle, but i've never had one fucking charge at me, leaving their territory, snarling and growling and snapping. And yet here i am, in fucking Texas, and this shit is happening every fucking day.

In Tyler i had an especially bad encounter because two large dogs came at once, one from the side and one cut in front of me so i had to swerve to miss it. I once heard that if a dog is barking you know you are safe because that means they are just making their presence known and they have no way of attacking you. That is not true in Texas. I also have heard that it helps to do your best to ignore the dog and just keep cycling past it. Basically through your actions you are saying "i am not the slightest bit interested in your pathetic pissing post, and i am so much bigger, stronger and tougher than you, that you're not even worth wasting my time on", and that intimidates them. But that doesn't seem to work either. They just keep coming, and i keep running.

This morning leaving Jacksonville i saw two different dead dogs on the shoulder. Roadkill on highway 69. Because that's what happens to these dogs that charge off their owner's property and run into the highway, chasing after whatever the fuck for a half mile until they either give up or get hit by a truck.

I have zero pity for the owners.

Anyway, after the gauntlet of dogs just getting into Tyler, i found a cute little Mexican restaurant opposite a fried chicken place. Sorry, fried chicken fans, it's not a dish i really like and i especially don't care for it when there is fucking tacos right next door.

In the interests of calorie-maxing, i got a guisada de puerco instead of my usual taco platter. I asked for green sauce but got red. I'm not sure in these places if my terrible Spanish would make me more or less understood than speaking English. Already in a few places i have had to use my terrible Spanish because no habla inglés. Anyway, the red sauce was delicious. And i got a taco de jamón because i have never had a ham taco before. It sounds a bit weird, but it is fantastic. Like a corny ham sandwich. Squirt some tomatillo salsa on it... Oh man. Good stuff.

Then i stopped in at a paletería (icecream shop) and got raspado (shaved ice) with tamarind and an agua fresca (kind of watery juice) with watermelon. The weather here, by the way, is very hot considering the time of year. Like 30C (85F) with humidity 60% and up. I need to drink a lot of water to keep hydrated, and i thought getting fruity sugar water would be a nice way to do it. The best thing about these Latin American sugar waters is you can see them blend the real fruit to make it, so you're not just getting some slushy syrup. Reminds me of the guys in China who will squish sugar cane into juice for you, or pineapple, or whatever.

I spent the night at Lake Jacksonville, which is the city lake for the town of Jacksonville. It was expensive, but at least i had mobile reception and an electric outlet. It was a real windy night, so i slept well and woke up with a bone-dry, bug-free tent. If only they were all like that.

This morning i basically just continued - boringly - down highway 69 and ended up in Lufkin. I had lunch at a Tex-Mex place in a small town called Alto. I had actually wanted to check out the local diner, but it was closed. No catfish for me. Well, perhaps i got catfish anyway, because i ordered fish tacos. They were fine. Tex-Mex isn't really my thing, but at least it has more flavor than the limp burgers you get further north.

And here i am. In the KOA.

East Texas is wearing on me. It really feels unnecessarily antagonistic toward poor people, travelers, Spanish-speakers, "liberals", cyclists, you fucking name it.

There was a sign on the toilets in Jacksonville - only in Spanish - saying to put the paper in the toilet. Like, i get that in some Spanish-speaking countries you put the paper in the waste basket and don't flush it. But that's the same in China too. And in parts of Europe. And even in parts of the United States of fucking America where people might have a septic tank or whatever. So what is this passive aggressive bullshit of only putting the sign in Spanish, when every other sign in the place is in English?

Or, as jenndolari pointed out in a comment on my last post... There is such a thing as "coal rolling" here. Which i have never heard of in my life, but now it explains why at least once a day since i have been in Texas i have had to cycle through thick, black smoke that has been belched out of the back of a pickup truck as it passes me. It's the most idiotic thing i have ever heard of. Up until now i just thought these were people with busted trucks who couldn't afford to get them fixed. But people actually pay money to deliberately make their cars less fuel efficient and more polluting, specifically so that they can... i dunno... own the libs or something!? Are they trying to slowly kill off the cyclists with diesel fumes that their dogs failed to kill? I mean, what the fuck?

And the billboards. Massive anti-abortion billboards, even now, as Texas has some of the most regressive abortion laws in the developed world. Or billboards with fucking nuclear explosions and eagles and airplanes and hammer and sickles saying "voted for a freedom-loving patriot, got a socialist traitor" or some damn bullshit. I have never seen so much political propaganda since i lived in China. I cycle past more Trump flags here in one day than i did throughout the whole rest of my US journey combined.

The poverty too, man, some of these mobile homes just jammed on the edge of town, almost collapsing. Invariably with a black family living there. Meanwhile the campsites have "no older than 10 year" rules for RVs and it costs over $25 a night for a fucking tent, if they even allow tents. Going through one small town i had a (black) panhandler ask me for cash. A panhandler, in a town with barely a thousand people, but somehow still enough money for a high school football arena and about 27 churches. The economic inequality is just... something else. And everything seems systemically designed to keep the poors out. Did i talk about the gated communities? Let's not.

It's just... so different to how i remember Texas being last time i was here. And maybe it was always this way in the north and the east. Maybe i "fit in" better last time because i drove a car. Maybe i'm screwing myself by visiting small rural towns. Well, not so much now that i have just been blasting down highway 69. I mean, at least there is cellphone reception on this highway.

Fucking hell.

I haven't even found a single roadside bar since i got here, which there were plenty of in central Texas. I really need a goddamn drink. Is the lack of bars because this is the Bible belt? For fuck's sake.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes. Tonight i have electricity and wifi. I might try put together a picture post for the morning. My current plan is to get the fuck into Louisiana. I don't know if it'll be any better. It'll probably be worse. But surely at least it can't be as expensive to sleep... can it?

Oh travel. It's not always fun, but i still love every minute and wouldn't want it any different. Does that make sense?
on the res

Lake Texoma → Lake Bonham → Lake Tawakoni → Hawkins

My first day in Texas was hot. I woke up to an overcast morning. It was still and muggy. Just as i was leaving i bumped into the woman cleaning the bathrooms - she's a workamper, cleaning for her spot. We talked a bit about my bike trip and then she revealed she decided to go full-time RVer during COVID. She quit her job in Arlington, moved out of her apartment and into a fifth wheel trailer. She said with the work her only costs are car payments (she doesn't have a truck of her own to tow the trailer), food and phone. She says it's great, she gets to wake up beside the lake every day, sit outside, cook up food on the fire. Some of her friends thought she was nuts, but she's happy, and has made new friends in the RVing community.

She said she was a divorcee, with grown kids. She raised them in the country but moved to the city to try find something more to life than just church and her dog. She went out for drinks twice a week and got into (computer) gaming, but eventually decided she'd had enough when the landlord hiked the rent again.

We talked a bit about our moms, who both passed away. She said hers got deep into conspiracy theories and it consumed her life, always worrying about politics. Then she said "but you know, it turns out a lot of what mom said was right". I nodded for her to go on. "Yeah, like back in Obama time, oh i hated Obama so much, he created this thing called Obamacare, and mom told me if it passed i'd be thrown in prison if i didn't get insurance. Well i never had insurance before because i have a preexisting condition, but now i was going to be forced to pay 800, 900 a month? I ain't paying that. So i never paid it, but they didn't catch me yet. I lived a good life, if it's my time, it's my time." I didn't ask why she hated Obama so much, or how her mom had been proven right given she wasn't in prison right now, and i didn't point out that Obamacare fixed the preexisting condition absurdity in American healthcare, i just said that it's sad when people get completely wound up in political drama that doesn't affect their lives. As we both know, it turns out if you switch off the news for a few months... Life still goes on. The world didn't end. So was it really worth the stress? Not really.

This is my way of avoiding political conflict. Most people can agree that it's not healthy to obsess over politics, and that a lot of what happens in DC and the stuff that gets talked about on cable news is so far away from our day-to-day lives that it's hardly worth worrying about. I like to say that it feels more constructive to focus on the change you can affect, so small things that matter in your local community. It's sort of planting the seed of anarchism in their minds, because the next logical step is if you are involved in shaping your community, why not let other communities decide for themselves how they want to operate?

Anyway, it was a nice chat, but the day got better from there! I decided to bike along a bunch of back roads to my planned lunch spot of Denison, and along the way i found myself in the Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge. It is the best place i have been in America on this whole trip. It was so cool, i finally felt like i was really in "the south" (that is, the south that i imagine it to be and not necessarily what it actually is).

The refuge is a whole bunch of swampy marshlands with mud and vines and dead branches all over. Insects constantly shrieking. Pelicans and other water birds off in the distance. Old dykes that seem to have created some polders or at least shallow pools - not sure if for salt, or aquaculture, or what. Rusted up oil derricks and pipes everywhere. It was awesome. I spent about an hour cycling around and probably could've spent all day. I really hope i get to see more of that sort of thing as i get more into the deep south.

Because of the morning conversation and refuge diversion, i was starving. I didn't make it to Denison so just got gas station tacos at Pottsboro instead. Why does a gas station have a taqueria inside? Because Texas, that's why. The tacos were pretty good, but probably not enough calories. I'm still struggling with how to eat more. It feels so unnatural and gluttonous.

I did stop at Denison to pick up some Ursack supplies and chat with a lunching Walmart employee, then continued along the back roads past big ranches and little ranches, Trump flags and Texas flags, lake houses and mobile homes. Multiple times i had dogs charge out of the yard barking and growling, chasing me down the street.

It disgusts me that people train their dogs to be aggressive like this. It's bad enough that these animals have been forced into intergenerational servitude in the first place, but then to deliberately breed them to be more vicious than a wild canine, it makes me sick. If anything domesticated animals should be more docile, getting fed and petted and walked all day as they do. It's only gotten worse the further south i have come. I feel like the people who perpetuate this must have a screw loose. Why isn't it a law to leash, fence or put down all violent dogs? Fuck. Put down their owners too. I suppose the reasoning is similar to thinking it's a great idea to own a gun for protection, but i don't understand that either. These folks don't seem to realize that they are the ones who are making society dangerous for everyone else.

And that is my rant on dog and gun ownership. Thank God a car didn't try run me down too or y'all would've gotten a trifecta of me hating on things a lot of people inexplicably love.

Anyway, after evading the attacks of a half dozen psychos' dogs, i got to Lake Bonham. It's just a small local lake for the nearby town. Middle of the week, there is a small community of long-term RVers in the front, nobody in the back. Peaceful spot to sleep. It is very humid. The insects are going wild. Feels like i'm really in a new place now. The hot and heavy subtropics. Let's go.

-o-

Today i was chased by dogs again. It's getting to the point where i dread cycling past people's houses because inevitably at least one house every mile or so is going to belong to a psychopath whose dog will literally run into the highway - cars and all - just to try to attack me. Fuck dogs, fuck dog owners and fuck all this bullshit.

Deep breath.

Speaking of dogs, when i was in Oklahoma i started watching Reservation Dogs. It's a comedy about indigenous kids living in a small town on the rez. It's very funny and worth watching the whole season, but cycling past all the ranches today reminded me of a scene where one of the kids and their dad go out hunting. They run across a couple of Texas ranchers whose only lines are "taxes", "Mexicans", "wokeness", "cancel culture" and so on. It made me laugh because it's such a perfect representation of these cranky right wing elites who seem to spend all their life grumbling about how the world is being destroyed by liberals while still paradoxically doing all the same shit they always did. If this is the liberal takeover, it is some weak sauce revolution, lordy.

Another thing i thought about was calories. I stopped at a donut shop in Bonham, because it seems every Texas town had about 6 donut shops and no bakeries. Seriously, i haven't seen this many donuts since leaving Canada, which has an obnoxious amount of donut shops hidden inside coffee shops. I kind of hate donuts. They are too sweet, too soft, and don't feel satisfying in any way. After i eat one it just feels like i ate some butter and sugar. Actually, butter and sugar spread onto bread would taste better. This might be my Dutch heritage showing. Although the Dutch have their own donuts called oliebollen, so that doesn't make sense. Anyway, they also had a hot dog bun at this place, but they called it a pig in a blanket, so i guess it's a standard thing in the US. I got an "apple fritter" which basically is a donut that tastes exactly the same as all the other donuts, but it has a fruit in the name so it sounds healthier, i guess?

Oops, i got sidetracked talking about donuts when what i really wanted to talk about was calories. I am still trying to figure out how to up my calorie count. I feel so gross eating as much food as i probably should be eating. It just feels profligate. Like, it goes against my philosophy of minimalism and not taking more from this planet's ecosystem than i need. But then i thought about how far the food is taking me, and i got to wondering how it compares to cars.

Turns out that a liter of gas (petrol) has around 8000kcal in it. I think a fairly efficient car could get you about 10km per liter. So, if i need to eat double-calories compared to a normally active person - 4000kcal per day - and i go 100km per day... I am 20x more efficient than a car in distance per calories. Looking at it this way, i shouldn't feel guilty about eating a disgusting amount of food, because it's still much less wasteful than anyone who drives an internal combustion vehicle.

Except, of course, gas is around 3 dollars a gallon in America. Let's make it even and say dollar a liter. That means a driver can harness 8000kcal of energy for a single dollar. I normally buy 500g of quick oats at a time, which if it's on sale might cost a bit over dollar. That's around 2000kcal in total, i think. Adding nuts or dates or dried fruit ups the calories, but also ups the cost. I'm not sure there would be any way to get the calories of gas in human edible food at the same price. A 500g container of peanuts is closer to 2500kcal, but costs two dollars.

I mean, obviously the energy density of gasoline is the reason why we use it in cars instead of burning oats or peanuts. But still, it makes you think. It is much more expensive to get calories for humans than for cars. Even though we are vastly more efficient energy-consumers than cars, if people are only thinking about the short term, then they will choose the cheaper, faster and more polluting option.

I think this is why action on climate change needs to be backed by serious government regulation. It needs to become economically unviable to destroy our planet. That's not something that "the market will decide" because the market will never choose the slower and more expensive option, even if it is more efficient in the long term.

Yeah, cycling with a tailwind through a flattish part of Texas got me thinking big thoughts.

At a gas station i met a cute little girl who ran out and shyly introduced herself while i parked my bike. She might have been school age, but it's hard for me to tell. She was little. She said my hair was pretty because it was pink. I explained that it used to be red but it fades out in the sun. She said she wanted to have pink hair, so i suggested she ask her parents if she could get it for Halloween. I said it's a good time of year for pink hair.

I also drank a large serve of sweet tea, which is basically just very expensive sugar water, but it's calories i needed.

I had tacos for lunch in Greenville. Then i found a frutería and got a wonderful fruit salad thing made from pineapple, cucumber, mango, peanuts and some kind of chewy sweet thing that might've been raisins or tamarind, with chili salt lime sauce. It was so good. It's weird how you need to go to an "ethnic" place just to get fresh fruit in small town America.

Now i am at an expensive camping resort on Lake Tawakoni. I paid $20 for a tent spot because they had a laundromat. Another $5 into the machines and finally i have clean clothes again. I have been desperate. It's going to feel so sweet to cycle out of here in clean clothes tomorrow.

Most of the campsites i can find in my next 100km circle are even more luxurious resorts charging $25+ for tent camping and even more for RVs. I can hardly believe how expensive it is to camp down here. Now i know why the RVers up in Kansas gave that state (and Nebraska) the thumbs up.

This morning the host at Lake Bonham kicked me down some cash after we chatted about my journey. He said it's not much, but it should help. It covered my camping for the night there - which was very affordable compared to these spots on the lakes east of Dallas - and my donut and sweet tea breaks.

This evening i talked to an old guy who used to hobo around many years ago. He said i should check out Leesville in Louisiana where he worked for a while. He said "there's no problem with the blacks..." Then caught himself, perhaps realizing that nowadays saying "the blacks" might be problematic. But he went on, explaining that it was a rare place where at the time there wasn't much racial violence and everyone pretty much got along ("as long as you mind your business"). I suppose that's relative to other parts of the south, where by all accounts it still very much sucks to be a person of color. Although, who knows, might have changed for the better since he was young. Or it might have changed for the worse. ("Down in Louisiana, all the churches are open, you can walk in anywhere and if you need a place to rest, you'll be looked after." Still the case? I doubt it.)

Either way, he's the second person i've met who reckons Louisiana is the place to be. He said to watch out for gators, though, especially on my bike. He said there's a road that goes through the bayou, swamp on both sides, gators just walk across the road out there. Fuck. Can't be as bad as the dogs, though, can it? He suggested when i camp to sleep up on the picnic tables. He also said that Anthony Fauci was a mad scientist who created the coronavirus in a Chinese lab and now we are all paying the price. I admit i am more scared of gators than corona, but that might be a misplaced fear. The old hobo said he met a guy at the fishing pier last night whose wife died of corona. How many people know someone killed by a gator?

I also cycled through a goddamn fucking bog today after a gravel road randomly turned into a deep mud patch, but that's another story. This is getting too long.

-o-

I'm starting to get a very clear picture of what i look for in a campsite, and i'm realizing it is very much not what people in Texas are looking for.

I need a flat place to pitch my tent, preferably with a bit of a wind break, but not with overhanging trees or any kind of hill or structure that will block the morning sun. I need a source of potable water - filtered from a creek or lake is fine, just as long as i can drink it. And a place where i can poop. I don't mind to dig a hole, but it is much more convenient to just sit and go. Flush is nice but not required. Picnic table to eat and organize my stuff. I also really need internet, either wifi or several bars of 4G. This is so that i can plan my route for the next day. I can do without internet for a night if i know in advance that's going to happen, but it's really annoying to expect it to be there and then not have it. Especially if the campsite i'm staying at stupidly requires internet booking instead of putting money in an envelope and done.

Things i do not care about include having an RV dump station, shade, trees, boat ramp, lake, fishing, quiet/far away from the highway, not having tweakers as my neighbors, pull through spots, pets allowed/not allowed, volleyball courts, fire pits, door code for the washrooms, gated entrance, and so on.

Basically, i want a motel version of a campsite, not a hotel or a resort. The campsite is where i sleep along the way, not a destination in itself.

That worked fairly well in the prairies, both in Canada and the US, where towns understand that people are passing through, so they have cheap and cheerful spots with just the bare essentials. But down here it's incredibly hard to find anything under $20 a night, and they're all "destination" spots where people are expected to stay for a while.

My struggles of Texas include... Spots you have to book several days in advance. A requirement that if you book one day on the weekend you have to book at least two. Double the price on holidays. Parks that ask if you own your own home and/or RV on the application form for an overnight stay. Parks that have a requirement that your RV must be newer than 10 years old. Parks out in woop-woop that don't have any mobile reception and still require you to pay online. Parks that ban tents. God. It never ends.

Yesterday i found a new kind of camping spot. A glamping spot. I booked in one of three tent sites on someone's private property, where they also have some huts, a tipi, gussied up caravans and so on. After chatting to a workamper who suggested i go to her home state of West Virginia which she said is very underrated, i cycled out of my resort site on Lake Tawakoni and in the direction of this glampsite. For some reason i had very little energy, so took a couple hours to barely go 30km.

I had lunch in Emory, and was distraught to find that the town has no taquerias at all. (There are three Tex-Mex restaurants, but it's not the same.) So i got Greek. All veg, i just got a dip platter, some potatoes, olives and salad. I also got two honey-drenched desserts.

The ride to my campsite near Hawkins was fine. Passing through Quitman i saw a taqueria inside a gas station that proclaimed itself to have the "best tacos", so my worry at having already left America's taco belt subsided.

The road from Alba to Quitman was unexpectedly pleasant. Most Texas roads are boring as hell. They're efficient and go straight from one town to the next (so there's no annoying stair-stepping like in the prairies), but they don't have much interesting scenery and the cars all drive 70+ miles an hour so it's hard to relax on a bike. But occasionally you find a road with fewer cars, and one that zigs and zags, meandering around the landscape in an aesthetically pleasing way. That was this road.

Also interesting is that East Texas has a bunch of pine forests. In my head Texas was swamps in the east, cacti in the south/west and ranches in the middle. But there is an area in the east called the Piney Forest, and that's where i am now. It is definitely much, much nicer to camp on a bed of dry pine needles than the rotting, spider-infested shitfest that is the boggy oak groves that have up until now been the only serious woodlands i've seen on this trip to the US.

And this campsite is gorgeous. It's on acreage owned by two old hippies who found Jesus and now have this festival-looking property with all kinds of whimsical fairy lights and installations and a giant fuck-off cross as the centerpiece of the public area. I had a long chat with the owner, he's a nice dude. He said on Sunday they have Java and Jesus around the campfire, there's no minister, they just talk about God and how He affects their lives. I guess it's something like a Quaker meeting, although i have never been to one of those so i don't know what that is like first hand.

I like this kind of Christian. I mean, who knows, dude might still preach fire and brimstone, but i get the sense it's more chill. You know, believe hard, worship with intensity, see the Holy Spirit in every little thing, God is all around, bla bla, but also it's a personal journey, and people need to find their own path to salvation, and sometimes that path is long and winding, and that's okay. I respect people who find comfort in their faith, and even those who evangelize or celebrate it proudly. Good for them! I only find religion objectionable when it starts being used as a basis for discrimination against non-believers, or just anyone who is living a peaceful life that certain sects deem to be sinful.

So this is a really nice camping spot. It's in the pines, it has all kinds of nice lighting, it's peaceful, it's owned by a couple of Actually Good Christians... It even has wifi (albeit very slow). But i want to leave. I don't want to sit around all day on the pine needles tethered to this power outlet in the middle of the public area trying to catch up on LiveJournal and email friends and family members who are long overdue for an update. I want to leave because the wifi is flaky and i have no mobile signal when it drops out and i don't have enough food in my Ursack to eat anything besides oatmeal for lunch, dinner and breakfast tomorrow morning.

So i will pack up and leave here in a minute, and once again struggle to find a fucking campsite for tonight. (Even worse because it's Saturday.) Once again i will spend over $20 to stay at a place that doesn't check all of my boxes because that's literally the only place available. And i will continue southish or eastish in the hopes things will change as i get closer to either Beaumont or Shreveport, even though i know they definitely won't. The only hope is that i find some delicious tacos along the way. And a grocery store or Walmart where i can buy tortillas and some more fruit.

I think i will post this update now despite y'all not having seen any Oklahoma photos yet, because this is a long and inner-thoughtsy update, and it feels like a continuation of the camping troubles i've had since south Kansas. Here's hoping i find somewhere with more consistent wifi and/or mobile signal for tonight. Sigh.
on the res

food in ok picture post

Texas is another state with very spotty mobile reception in the rural areas. And less open wi-fi as well. I'd like to do an Oklahoma picture post, if i got enough pictures, but they still haven't all synced to my tablet yet! Instead you'll have to make do with an Oklahoma food picture post. It's a short one, so don't be afraid to click through.



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All up, i was impressed with the food in Oklahoma. I was worried it'd be a bit bland, but on average it was more flavorful than the food in the states north of it. I still believe that the food gets better in the US the more south you go. It's not that none of the food up north tastes good, but i think the base level of deliciousness is set higher in the south. More vegetables, more spices, more overall punch. Not bad.
on the res

Wellington → Perry → Bell Cow Lake → Lake Thunderbird → Davis → Lake Texoma

Oklahoma has been a state of indecisiveness for me. I can't quite seem to get my groove, but i'm not sure if it's me or the situation.

When i last wrote i was in a KOA in Wellington, Kansas. That evening i met another couple of kampers who were thrilled by my backpacking adventure. They were RVing down from Wisconsin to Texas to find cool places to hike and enjoy silly roadside attractions, so we swapped some stories and recommendations. They were off to Gloss Mountain next, unfortunately a little out of my way. The only other tent camper in the KOA was a woman who was sleeping in her car, using it as a sort of cheap motel. In the morning she said it was her last day before getting home, so she gave me all her supplies - a bunch of different nuts and trail mixes, and some of those water mix things to make your water taste different.

It was a great spot to camp. Clean and friendly. I wish i had taken advantage of the laundromat.

See, my original plan had been to get to Stillwater - a student town - for my Skype drinks with R. But the storm left me too far to the west to make it in one day, so my next plan was Ponca City. But then, when i checked the motel reviews, it seems all the $50 motels had bedbugs, and then there was a big price gap to $200 and up (per night). I could probably swing a sketchy bedbug motel in case of emergency for one night, but i really didn't want to stay in one for my two day relaxation session. On the other hand, charging $200 for a motel that isn't in a major city is outrageous. It's already outrageous in a major city!

So i ended up heading for Perry, a small town with a cluster of motels next to the interstate (which was a couple miles west of town). Got a Super-8, which annoyingly did not have a coin laundry. I got very drunk. The next day i was so hungover i did nothing, but that was the plan, so it was alright. I ate Mexican food, which was good, and tried a burger from a local fast food chain, which was bad. I bought a pack of smokes.

I should talk about the smokes. When i left Kamloops, my landlord gifted me a pack of smokes. I have smoked and quit smoking many times over the past 30 years. Sometimes i quit for several years. Sometimes i start for a couple months then quit again. I started again during COVID in China, then quit when i got back to Canada. But i'd still social smoke with my landlord, bumming her Mohawk Nation smokes. Anyway, she gifted me a pack before i left on the journey. I accepted because tobacco is a traditional gift and who knows when it might come in handy? I smoked one cigarette on nights when i felt scared or frustrated, or when i'd had a few drinks. I smoked the last one in Kansas. I debated buying a pack because that would mean i was a smoker again, but if i can keep it down to one cigarette every few days then i don't feel so bad. Of course, Oklahoma has frustrated me into smoking one a day, so gah.

The next next day i got back to cycling. I figured i would go to Stillwater for lunch, then try push on to a city lake that had on-site payment for camping. On the way to Stillwater, i got a flat. My first puncture on the back wheel since getting that tremendous Schwalbe Marathon tire. It seems the puncture happened due to an absolutely vicious thorn that had somehow gotten embedded in the sidewall of the tire.

It took me an hour to change the fucking tube. I might still be there, on the side of the road, if it hadn't been for some kind soul passing by who decided to pull over and offer help. You see, this combination of tire (installed in Kelowna after a blow-out) and rim (installed in Brandon after my spokes went) does not fit very well. It was extremely difficult to get the tire off the rim, and then almost impossible to get it back on. Fortunately the guy had a large flathead screwdriver in his truck, and he used that to lever the tire on, since it could provide more leverage than my tire levers which are actually designed for the job. He also had an air compressor, which saved a lot of hand pumping.

Unfortunately, even with the tire back on it wouldn't seat properly. I messed around with letting air out and re-pumping to try seat it, then just gave up and cycled on the bumpy wheel to the local bike shop. Thank God i was near a student town where there was a local bike shop. The back tire was almost bald anyway from the past couple months of cycling, so i decided to get it replaced. I got a slightly skinnier tire (30mm All Condition Armadillo), but it looks fatter than the 32mm Marathon because the tread is wider. Not sure it rides any different, whatever. It's all they had. COVID shortages are happening at every bike store.

I also got some gloves. I haven't mentioned it, but for the past few weeks i have had pins and needles in my fingers. I knew it must be because i am putting too much stress on the heels of my hands, but i wasn't sure how to fix it. Turns out those stupid-looking bicycle gloves are actually designed to prevent exactly the numbness i am experiencing. We'll see if they work, i suppose it'll take a few weeks for the nerves to recover.

Anyway, after that very long unplanned break i pushed on to Bell Cow Lake. Which turned out to be the most perfect lake i have camped at yet. I had a spot on the east side of a little outcrop on the north shore. The sun rose directly shining onto my tent, giving me a delightfully warm and dry morning. Some neighbors blasted classic rock all evening till someone rolled by and told them to shut up. The fish kept jumping around and plip-plopping all night.

The couple RVing opposite came to chat too - they thought it was remarkable that i had found this lake out in the ass end of nowhere to camp. The guy suggested i head down highway 3 where the landscape gets real rugged and there are a bunch more beautiful lakes.

The ride through Oklahoma has had some different phases. Coming into the state it was the same kind of flat marshland that was in southern Kansas, except with more oil derricks. Then things started getting increasingly hilly and tree-ish, worryingly Missouri-like. Somewhere i crossed the Cimarron River, which is a reddish brown color, like the soil in the surrounding countryside. But around Chandler, the town by Bell Cow Lake, i had this weird feeling of déjà vu. It started to feel a bit like i was in New Zealand.

Of course Oklahoma is nothing like New Zealand. The native flora and fauna are completely different. But something about the climate - hot, but not too hot, humid, but not too humid... Something about the weatherboard houses... The cow and horse farms - too small to be called ranches, really... This sort of humble, hilly, farmy landscape reminded me of Waikato, where i used to live as a child.

Chandler had some interesting hippie-looking things, but my biggest surprise was going into the local bakery and finding something close to a Hong Kong style hotdog bun. Like, where the hotdog is baked into a sweet cocktail bun-like pastry. Sadly it didn't have the exciting trend of putting custard in there too, but that probably would've blown these Oklahomans' minds. They also sold donuts, which is what everyone else was picking up, presumably to bring to church.

My next stop was Shawnee for lunch. I had an average Mexican meal, then continued cycling south until i saw a sign: FRY BREAD TACO. Goddamnit. If only i had held on, i could've had the biggest heaped Indian taco of all time on the Citizen Powatomi Nation. Instead i got dessert - strawberries and cream on frybread. It was so good. It was fantastic. It might even have been better than if i'd gotten the taco!

After that i rechecked my destination options, which were a bunch of RV campsites near the highway 3 spur a good few hours to the south. The wind has been blowing really heavy from the south and all the hills in the area meant i'd be zonked when i arrived, so i really needed to be sure i could actually camp.

Every place i called either had a dead number or didn't pick up. The website links on Google Maps are wrong for most Oklahoma RV parks, pointing to campsites in a different states entirely. I found some Facebook pages, not updated in 6 months or more.

I decided not to take the risk and headed west to a nearby state park instead. I thought that'd be the safe option, but when i got here i saw the dreaded "all campsites must be booked in advance online" sign. Fuck every fucking place that does this nonsense. Sunday night, end of the season, almost every tent site is open, but i still can't just set up and put some money in an envelope? For fuck's sake.

Of course their site's DNS entry was borked. Of course i had to hack my way onto the booking site using my tablet instead of my phone. Of course the maps on the booking site don't match the actual campsite layout so i had to cycle around with my tablet in my hand like a total douchebag. Of course they didn't accept my Canadian bank card for payment. Of course i didn't discover that till 10 minutes later when they sent an email saying it didn't go through.

I fucking hate these bullshit online campsite booking systems. They're always terrible. You just know that they aren't user tested, they aren't designed by or for actual campers. They're probably just some bullshit money grab by lazy private contractors, the kind of business conservative governments love to outsource what is supposed to be a public service to. For fuck's sake, if you don't trust people to pay using an honesty box, then get a volunteer workamper to host and accept payments. Plenty of full-time RVers would be thrilled to get a free site in exchange for collecting money from walk-ins.

I grumbled about it with a homeless guy who offered for me to set up my tent on his site. "I just got some real cheap hamburger meat, good quality too, 90% lean. You're welcome to join me, i'll grill up extra. You don't have to worry or nothing, i'm not into men, i love the pussy." He got kicked out of his place in Broken Bow during COVID and had been bumming around the state living in his truck and camping in town trying to avoid the (apparently) gun-toting urban homeless until he found that the state parks had reopened and they had a discount for people with disability. He's been living in this park since the summer, but said that they're trying to kick him and other long term campers out at the end of the month. "So where am i going to live then? This is public land, how can they tell us we can't stay?"

I get a sense there are a lot of homeless - or perhaps i should better say houseless - people in Oklahoma. I suppose i'm one of them too. I just wish safe places to camp weren't all driving distance apart. And i wish the government made it easier to camp on what is supposed to be the people's land.

-o-

Did i mention i met a homeless guy in Wichita too? He was waiting for his bike to get fixed at the bike shop. He suggested next time i get stuck in a storm i get under a bridge or an overpass, which would be good advice closer to the city where the highway actually has exits. He'd been living in a storage unit for a year or so, waiting for public housing to come through. Survives off benefits and doing odd jobs around the place. No driver's license, so he doesn't get too many. The homeless are everywhere, in plain sight, and most of them don't look like stereotypical bums. Housing should not be as expensive or as hard to qualify for as it is.

-o-

I can't tell you how relieved i am to find a hassle free and fabulously situated campsite tonight. I couldn't contact the place up front, but i decided to risk it and cycled past the town of Davis and down to I-35 and now basically have hundreds of acres to myself. This campsite seems to be more outfitted for scout jamborees or big events, and this time of year, in the middle of the week, it's all mine. No site numbers, just some picnic tables, a few water hydrants, and even a couple of power outlets for the glampers. I camped by the creek and left my battery pack up near the road charging. Hopefully tomorrow morning i will get a face full of sun.

The ride down here was fine. It started out feeling a bit Missouri-ish with endless hills and trees, but then it opened back up to those small farms, with some goats, or donkeys, or chickens. I got that Waikato feeling again. It's very weird. I don't have especially good memories of New Zealand - i never really fit in anywhere down under - but i suppose it was the age when i first started going on bike rides out in the country, so it feels familiar and a bit nostalgic. Some of my friends lived on acreage, so cycling past these small Oklahoma farms reminded me of that.

Then i crossed the river to 77, the highway that parallels the interstate, and it was back to American scenery. The more south i went the more Texas-y it got, with the ranches getting bigger and Spanish becoming the primary language at every gas station, restaurant and shop. I found a tiny little taqueria in Pauls Valley and got the best tacos since Coralville. I think the Coralville carnitas is still número uno, but the Pauls Valley al pastor was very good.

I also talked to a grocery store clerk in Paoli who was either high or just feeling whimsical and philosophical, talking about how she wanted to travel in Canada because she felt getting in touch with nature would be a good way to get in touch with herself. She also said that it's lonelier to live with people all around than it would be if she was in the wilderness. I would've liked to've chatted more, but she had a customer so i left. I hope she finds what she's looking for.

I have added a Rosetta Stone Basic Spanish deck to my nightly flashcards. I felt like an idiot today surrounded by Spanish speakers and being the one annoying gringo who never bothered to learn. It happens every time i am in California, and the one time i visited Texas before too. I did a few terms of Spanish in community college in Toronto but it never went anywhere because you don't hear it around you all the time like you do in the US border states. Perhaps this time some of it will stick.

I think tomorrow i am going to make for Lake Texoma, right on the state border. It will mean i missed the scenic parts of Oklahoma more to the east and the west, but today's ride just put me in a Texas mood and i feel like i'm ready. Give me all of the tacos. Every single one.

-o-

I am in Texas, y'all! Home of big hats, politicians who hate women, proper goddamn frontage roads, and tacos.

My first stop this morning was the chain restaurant Arbuckle Mountain Fried Pies, which i allowed to break my "no chains" policy because it was the original location and because it's not a chain you can find everywhere like Sonic (whose original location i also passed a few days back). I bought a peach for energy to go up said mountain and saved an apple for later. My conclusion is that fried pies fucking suck. It's like they surgically removed the best part of the pie (the soft, doughy base that absorbs all the fruit juice and could be a meal on its own) and replaced it with the worst part of the pie (the crumbly, crispy top that doesn't taste of anything). Like, at that point you might as well just be eating a water cracker and the original piece of fruit. Spectacularly overpriced. Two thumbs down.

Then i climbed the Arbuckle mountain range over highway 77, which is a bizarre post-apocalyptic highway that nobody uses any more because I-35 runs right alongside it. It's half overgrown and strewn with trash on both sides. There are a bunch of cabins and theme parks along the route, apparently owned by a cabal of Christian capitalists, because they all have exorbitant cover charges and Bible quotes on the signs. It's really creepy. There is a fucking walled compound up there which belongs to whatever damn church and it's like... what kind of church has a locked, gated compound? Aren't the doors of salvation supposed to be open to everyone? It was like a horror movie. Well worth the detour if you're driving from OKC to Dallas.

The landscape reminded me a bit of BC. It was refreshing to climb a mountain again that actually went, like, up. To the top of a mountain. Not this half-assed, relentless, Sisyphean up/down hill cycling that leads nowhere.

The top of the mountain had a windmill farm and was very fucking windy. I had to pedal hard to go down the other side because the wind was so strong. I knew it was going to be strong, but there's no point waiting it out because it seems the prevailing wind through exactly the parts of the country i chose to go south through is southerly. So. Fuck. I am fighting all the way down.

I was exhausted by the time i got to Ardmore, which i think was only like 30km from where i started. Absolutely brutal. I didn't even cycle downtown because i was so tired, i just headed straight out to the east and resolved to eat lunch from my Ursack. But then i saw a shack on the side of the road with a cafe sign. So i went in. Turned out to be a little southern diner. They had a vege plate. Three veges and cornbread for 6 bucks. Add more veges if you like. Fucking. Finally. Finally i found the kind of place that would let me eat "aspirationally vegan", like i did in China. It's not so fucking hard. They just need to serve a bunch of veges, that's all. I got pinto beans, black eyed peas, green beans and deep fried okra. Yeah, they probably fried some of it in bacon grease. But at least i got to eat some fucking vegetables, praise the lord and hallelujah.

The rest of the ride was tough. Heading east wasn't so bad, but eventually i turned south again and slammed straight into that wall of wind. Is what it is. Just gotta persevere. When i got to the campsite it was another one of those stupid online reservations only things, and on top of that all the tent campsites were apparently unavailable. Fuck! So i am currently camped in (having paid for) a full 50A, water hookup RV site on the shore of Lake Texoma. It's so fucking hardcore that they don't even have the 20A/30A standard plug socket connected, so i can't even charge my shit. My neighbors all have very, very expensive RVs, trucks and boats. On the same damn lot. This campground is way above my pay grade.

Of course, because RVers like this have their own toilets and shower, the toilet and shower block is miles away and full of spiders. Fuck it. I needed a shower. I paid 26 bucks. I deserved a shower. So i had a shower.

And now i will drink my one can of hard seltzer and eat some Ursack food and listen to the waves lapping on the shore of this big, badass lake. I'm in Texas! Woohoo!
on the res

heading out of kansas picture post

Lordy. Oklahoma is a difficult state to find camping. After quite a struggle, i got a spot at a state park for tonight. It's another one of those flop-ass states/provinces like Alberta where you have to book your spot on the internet, no exceptions. Fortunately, there is much, much better 4G coverage here than in the black hole of Kansas/Missouri/Iowa. Let's get some pictures of Kansas uploaded. Lots of tourist stuff for ya.



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So far Oklahoma has not been as picturesque, but given the odd zig-zags i'm doing to try find camping spots, i might be here a while.
on the res

food in ks picture post

I started getting a bit tired of all the small town food in Kansas, but looking back at these pictures i did have a few alright meals in the state. Click on through for more pictures of the food i found around the center of the contiguous United States.



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And that's all she wrote for Kansas. Some good, some bad, but the good stuff was some of the best stuff i've eaten in the US. I am holed up in a Super-8 in Oklahoma now taking a rest and recovery day. My lunch was an obnoxiously-sized double serve of Americanized Mexican food whose photo will appear in a future post. I might try the Oklahoma burger chain Braum's for dinner. My friend R freaked out when she saw on me on Skype last night and said i am wasting away. After she took some screenshots of my frighteningly skeletal ass and sent them back to me, i think she might be right. So today is an omnivorous fattening-up day. I might need to rethink my calorie intake going forward.
on the res

Glen Elder → Osborne → Wilson → St John → Kingman → Wellington

The past 36 hours have been an interesting reflection on the sorts of sights i enjoy when i travel.

I headed out of Glen Elder in the morning, opting to take highways instead of gravel roads because i wasn't sure where i wanted to end up and figured i should make good time. Usually going down the highways doesn't really feel super scenic, but in this case it randomly led me to a town that had the world's biggest ball of twine. This sort of roadside attraction is the sort of dumb shit i love, so i read the story then snapped the selfie and continued on my way.

After hitting the next town i turned right up one of the loneliest highways i've ridden. Don't get me wrong, there was traffic, but much like parts of southwest Saskatchewan, there were very few buildings, and many of what had been there was abandoned. It felt like a road to nowhere, but actually it's the road to the geographic center of the contiguous United States.

I stopped in at Lebanon, which i know of as the town nearest to Sam and Dean's underground bunker from later seasons of Supernatural, but it's also the town nearest the center. Nothing was open, but that's not saying much since there's almost nothing there. But, just as i was about to cycle away, a lady walked out of a nondescript door and said "they're doing five dollar burgers in there". Turns out i had shown up during a weekend fundraiser for the Legion Hall (veterans' club) and there was a table set up in the back selling hotdogs and hamburgers for a five dollar donation. Chips on the side, ice tea and dessert included. Not bad!

While i was in there i met a lady who in her younger days had cycled "the x", crisscrossing the USA from coast to coast. Another couple had just been on a morning bike ride and suggested taking the back way to the center. It was a really nice surprise.

I got to the center and it was another example of exactly the kind of stupid attraction i adore. To think, a plaque (and a miniscule chapel!) erected at a random arbitrary point on the continent, that only really makes sense in some cartographer's imagination. If Red River Colony had stayed autonomous, the spot would be elsewhere. If Texas hadn't joined the union. If France hadn't sold Louisiana. If the decision to draw the Canadian border was not along the 49th. It's like a monument to how fucking absurd and meaningless national borders are. Absolutely fantastic spot to visit.

I thought it was going to be packed, but actually i only saw one motorcyclist who stopped long enough to snap a photo and a couple who i struck up a conversation with. Like the oldies back in Lebanon they were excited to tell me that the song "Home on the Range" was written nearby, and you can in fact visit the actual range referenced in the song. I have to say that meant very little to me. But then they said there's a statue of liberty out in the middle of the prairie, and, fuck, i had to see that!

So after cycling half gravel half highway to Smith Center and taking a photo of their full-size Dutch windmill, i went south past Gaylord and found the damn statue of liberty. It's awesome. It's just randomly sitting there, on a hill, in the prairie. You might not even notice it from the highway if you didn't know it was there. It's the best fucking thing. The only thing that would've made it better is if it had the pro-immigrant poem from the one in NYC, but it just says something like "erected in 1975 by the local scout troop", which perhaps makes it even funnier.

Of course, i had shot myself in the foot and i knew it by heading down that road. Because there were no campsites for another 50km, and i didn't have the energy to cut across back to Glen Elder, or the will to backtrack to Smith Center. So i just continued to the next "major" town and hoped i could find a stealth camping spot. There was one park that looked like it might allow RVers, but there were no toilets and no signs posted. I stopped into the local bar to ask.

The people at the bar said there are no campsites in town, but that RVers do sometimes use that park, they just weren't sure if the cops ticketed them for it or not. I had my eye on a patch of green i could see on the map a few miles to the east, but you never know till you get there if it's an actual public use area or private land, so eventually i resolved to eat dinner at the bar and just spring for a motel.

See, lots of bike tourers and pretty much all hobos and hitchhikers stealth camp all over the place. They don't give a shit, they just find a spot where they hope people don't walk their dogs and pitch a tent or roll out a bivy. But also a lot of them have been cited for trespassing or kicked out at gunpoint or thrown in jail because landowners and local cops are assholes. And i know that might only happen one night in ten, or one night in twenty, but i don't want to go to sleep worrying about the odds, and i don't want to have to wake up and hightail it out of there before anyone spots me. It's just too much stress for me, especially given i can afford the yuppie option. That's privilege, i suppose, but also it's the desire to avoid conflict. One reason i don't break the law more often isn't because i think i the law is good. Usually i think the law is stupid. But i also can't be bothered fighting it or trying to explain myself, because that's more trouble than it was worth to break the law in the first place. Fuck the authorities. But, also, meh. I'm not a revolutionary, i'm just someone who wants to be left alone.

Anyway, i stayed in the motel and then booked my next night's camping in advance. Because i saw it was on a fucking Cold War missile silo! Yeah! My kind of sightseeing!

I checked the weather and a spot of rain was forecast for the evening. Not enough to worry about. So i figured instead of cycling around or away from the rain like i normally do, i'd head into it.

It fucking rained, buddy! Buddy, did it rain.

I did have an amazing 20 mile ride to Luray, a dead straight highway with absolutely nobody on it, and dozens of abandoned buildings around the place. Luray had nothing in it, but Lucas had some art. Lucas was the place i had been recommended by the dog lady (and immunologist, did i mention that?) on my first evening in Kansas. Some old eccentric guy lived there and turned his house into a giant sculpture, then when he died he had himself mummified and left on the site as part of the artwork. The whole town has leaned into the quirky art thing, so there are bizarre installations all over the place.

Well, half the town. The other half has Trump flags and Fuck Biden signs all over it. It's the first really overtly political town i've been to in Kansas. In Minnesota, Iowa and Missouri, every larger town had one house that was the overtly political house. Without fail it was always the biggest, most expensive house in town, or a ritzy ranch on the outskirts. You could argue that poor people can't afford to festoon their house with political paraphernalia, but i think the reality is most hardcore right-wingers in America are actually fairly well-off, despite their claims to speak for the downtrodden, forgotten, rural poor. I think they're the ones who employ the actual rural poor, and then complain that said poors are lazy for wanting a living wage. Small wonder half the country doesn't vote at all. The loudest right and left wingers, they're both just wealthy people with the time and money to spout ideology at one another. Meanwhile the poor and working class don't feel they have any representation at all. That was the sense i got while traveling through the US in the lead-up to the 2015 presidential election and nothing much has changed since.

But yeah, Lucas, the first town i've been to where it wasn't just the richest person in town wearing their Trump or bust beliefs on their sleeve. I suspect part of it is a reaction to the town being a roadside attraction for presumed liberal elites. So much of this political propaganda feels like petty point-scoring, hardly anyone seems to bother putting an actual policy they care about on a sign.

And, i gotta say, the whole art thing went over my head too. I didn't even bother taking a tour. I just don't get it. I don't get most capital-A Art. Murals, graffiti, sure. Trippy installations and psychedelic graphics designed to complement a night of excellent electronic music, yeah i get it. Statue of liberty in the middle of the prairie, giant ball of twine, i get that. SPAM. Star Trek. Wizard of Oz. Supernatural. Pop culture shit, i get it. Some whole sculpture made of clay or cement or some damn thing, some deep concept, a dead body on display, nah, that's over my head. I don't care. High art can get fucked. I am sure all my art-loving friends are cringing but i am what i am. If i need to read a booklet to find out what the point is or why it supposedly matters, i'm out.

I also got a mediocre breakfast.

So Lucas was not my cup of tea, but things got much worse when i cycled south to Wilson. It poured. It pissed down. There is a giant Czech egg in town, and i don't even know what a Czech egg is but giant ones are very cool, but i couldn't even enjoy it because i was sodden. I stopped in for another meal not 2 hours after my first one just to cheer me up. This meal was much better.

And now i am camped on top of a missile silo, which i will hopefully tour tomorrow morning when the rain stops. All the fields around are full of oil derricks and windmills. The interstate is just a couple miles away. No 4G. It's a very odd and contradictory spot. But this, this is my kind of spot. I will cycle through hours of heavy rain to come somewhere like this. You can keep your art. Gimme a bunch of power plants and a military base in the middle of the prairie. That's my jam.

Still raining. I am cold. I think i will stay in the tent to eat. Maybe i will watch a show. I wonder if i have anything Cold War-y or post-apocalyptic downloaded? Maybe Y: The Last Man.

-o-

It was so neat watching the first few episodes of Y: The Last Man. I read the first few seasons of the comic years ago, so it was sort of nostalgic to see it come to life.

The next morning the sun came out and dried up all my gear. The camp host took me and an RVer couple for a tour of the missile silo, and it was rad as hell. It's just straight-up cool to go underground in this base built to withstand a nuclear blast and get an idea of what life would've been like for the soldiers working there. It felt a bit like walking around in an abandoned vault from the Fall Out: New Vegas computer game.

And then i embarked on a long, uneventful ride south. There was basically no towns 60km south to Great Bend and then another no towns 50km south to the place i am camped near St John. I didn't take any scenic detours. My body is hurting from the ride. I just wanted to get south, fast. I did get a fantastic lunch from a mercado in Great Bend, so that was something.

But, yeah, set up the tent, ate dinner, lay down with the intention to watch some TV, then immediately passed out. I just woke up to type this. And then i will go back to sleep. I am zonked.

-o-

I have to admit the lack of campsites round this part of the country is a bit annoying. They either seem to be too close for a day's ride, or too far. I got into the rhythm of about 100-120km a day, so when i go less it feels like i'm not making efficient use of the day, but going more is really pushing my limits.

The reason i'm getting antsy about distance is i penciled in a Skype drinks with my friend R, and that means i will need to be in a motel for guaranteed internet connection. But if i stay in a motel, i'd like to at least stay in a town whose food offerings are a little more exciting than fucking burgers.

I am getting sick of small town dining. Every time i see another menu with the same bland combination of meat and cheese on white bread i want to bash my head into a wall. I still appreciate it as a way to connect with and put some money into the local community, but it's making my taste buds and my stomach sad. I find myself looking forward to my evening meal of peanuts in a tortilla with some Tajin, maybe with a few dates or dried mango strips... because that's the most filling and flavorful thing i eat all day. Which says more about country restaurants than my Ursack bounty. I can't believe people here don't eat any fruits or nuts unless they are baked into a pie with a half pound of sugar, but it seems that's the way it is. And vegetables? If you're lucky enough to even see one, which you probably won't be, they're either deep fried or smothered in cheese. Sometimes both.

Anyway, yeah, so i have been planning ahead and trying to find a route that will take me to an interesting town for Thursday and maybe Friday night. I think the winner is Stillwater, Oklahoma, which is a college town and slightly more diverse than the other Extremely Fucking White towns i have mostly been stopping at. Obviously i could also go to Wichita or Oklahoma City (Tulsa is too far), but they would create too-short (or too-long) days of riding, which was my original dilemma.

Not that it's much of a dilemma, but that's what my life problems have been reduced to. Oh no. If i go that way, i might only have a 60km day between this lake and that one. Woe is me.

-o-

Ho ho ho, said Mother Earth, let's bust this little cyclist's hubris.

If you checked LiveJournal yesterday, you know i got caught in a pretty big storm. The forecast did say there would be some storms, but only overnight. Instead the first wave arrived just after lunch. I had eaten a large omelette in Cunningham, listening to the next table over talk about climate change and how it isn't human-caused so there's nothing we can do, but i didn't arrive early enough to know that their conversation must have started as a conversation about the surprise storm that was now less than an hour away.

I had no internet, you see. For a very brief and joyous band between Great Bend and St John, i had 4G. Then, after just going a handful of kilometers south, darkness. And no free wifi to be found. Not having regular weather updates is a very big problem in storm prone areas. I only started getting the emergency broadcast updates for tornado watch in the evening, after i had already checked into a motel.

Leaving Cunningham i got fucked by a bypass which had one entrance to the freeway a half mile out of town, and then no entrances for a few miles in either direction. So the main road i was on which seemed like it should rejoin the freeway ended up turning into a dirt road and heading back out into the prairie, directly away from the highway. That's when the storm hit me.

My bike, my gear, my clothes - all caked with sand. Most of the back roads in Kansas are not gravel roads, they are just packed sand, and in the rain that means mud and grit. I figured the safest place to be would be the highway, since it'd be less likely to flood and at least i would be visible in a real emergency (tornado) and able to get help.

I had to cycle about 40km in the end, arriving at Kingman with soaked everything, cracked skin from the hail stones and missing my wing mirror which must've flown off during the fiercest wind gusts along the highway.

So my plans will have to change, and i might only make Ponca City by Thursday. RIP my search for good food.

But, whatever. At least i survived. Overnight the storms lashed Kansas again, and tornadoes hit in some rural parts of the state as well as in Oklahoma. No major damage, but i'm glad i wasn't camping through it. Perhaps getting caught in the daytime was a blessing in disguise. At least it got me into shelter.

I really need this fucking internet to work better, though. It's a safety issue. It's fucking nuts that you can't just have one SIM card that works all over America. It seems you need SIMs from at least all three major carriers just to have assured service in every small town. I feel like i have stepped into the dark ages.

-o-

I suppose i could've pushed on to Winfield, if not my original plan of Arkansas City. But i am soft and stopped at around 120km, Wellington KOA camp site. KOA campsites are sort of uncool in the bike tourer and hitchhiker set, because they are family-oriented and cost twice as much as a sketchy RV park or scenic state park, but this one was conveniently located and i feel like i still deserve some pampering. That is, wifi included, spotless flush toilets, private showers, and a cheerful bunch of happy kampers who come to these places to socialize as much as to camp.

I met a full-time RVer who goes week by week. That's a smart way to travel. Set up at a site where you get weekly rates (cheaper), leave your caravan there and take the truck around to visit all the attractions in the area. Bit more of a relaxed pace than my every-day-a-new-town thing. He said he books in monthly in south Texas towns for the peak winter time, since it's cheaper and less packed with snowbirds than Arizona or Florida. Man. He's living the dream. Full-time travel would be the greatest.

Today's ride was an uneventful one. Blasted down the freeway with a tailwind (finally!) then switched over to a greenway when i got closer to Wichita. Stopped into a store for supplies, then had the best damn lunch ever at a Peruvian place i stumbled upon. Then booked it south and here i am. Tomorrow Oklahoma.

Oklahoma is one of my least-want-to-visit states. It has such a fucked up history. It started as "Indian Territory", which is where they drove all the indigenous people from the eastern states away to. Then as usual the promises were broken and the white man came in and settled it anyway in a first-come-first-serve land grab that the state denizens are still proud of cheating to win. Then former slaves started their own businesses and industry in Tulsa. Then the white man came along and massacred them too. Somewhere along the way there was a geographic clusterfuck that made the panhandle a no man's land that used to belong to Texas but Texas wasn't allowed it any more because they wanted to keep slaves and slaves were not allowed north of the 36°30 parallel. The whole state is a giant blazing reminder of how the white man screwed everybody else on the continent. Also, wrestling commentator Jim Ross comes from there. That's all i know about Oklahoma.

But i will keep an open mind, and it might just surprise me.

Oklahoma is tomorrow, where i will pause in a motel for a couple days for Skype drinks with R and to email friends and family who are not on LiveJournal and have no idea where i am. Tonight i say good night to Kansas. This state has been pretty good to me.
on the res

journey to the center picture post

Okay, since i am holed up in a motel anyway tonight due to my unfortunate encounter with a heavy storm, let's picture post the first half of my Kansas adventure.



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That was Kansas: the first half! The second half started with a bumper couple days of very touristy sightseeing, and then a couple days of hard pedaling through much less interesting landscapes (wetlands) and getting hailed on. I'll collect all that together when i head across the border to Oklahoma. Which will hopefully be in two days, if the weather doesn't surprise me again!