Back home after 36 days of the "Classical to Rock 'n Roll Tour" and Southern hospitality!
What this tour lacked in scenery (unless your idea of beautiful scenery is miles and miles of farmland--I'm sure for some that is quite beautiful), it more than made up for in history, culture, and family. The alligators, armadillos, and birds were pretty cool too!
The history of the South is something I learned about in school, but actually being there made it much more real. Seeing the battlefield in Vicksburg, knowing that the contour of the land where a part of the Civil War took place has not changed, makes it easier to imagine what it was like. The plantation houses and the mansions, especially in Natchez, showed a history of wealth that was not always easy to see as we pedaled through the small towns along our route.
Even though I was a little young during some of the Civil Rights struggles, the concept of equality, or inequality, is not something I've ever dealt with face-to-face. Seeing Central High School in Little Rock, where nine extremely brave students struggled just to go to a school where they could get an education equal to what white students took for granted, made me realize how difficult (and crazy) that time was in our history.
The culture of the South is in everything from friendly faces to food. Men were far more likely to speak to us when we would stop, but everyone was very kind and helpful when we would ask questions. Just a few examples--Steve inviting us to stay in his backyard in Gay Hills, TX, even though he wasn't going to be there. Bubba inviting us to stay with his Pampered Pedalers at Mexican Hill Farm in Richards, TX. The salon gal in Thicket, TX leaving the door unlocked to her salon so we could use the restroom during the night. Shannon giving us donuts and MREs at Chicot State Park in Louisiana. And, Boris going back to his office to let us get water, then showing us where the primitive campsite was on our first night of the MRT. There were many experiences like these.
As for the food, except for Subway Restaurants (had food from 13 of them--no avocado in Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, or Tennessee), it was not easy to get fresh veggies and fruits for lunch (except in the grocery stores where all the apples came from...Washington!). Much of the food is fried. I did eat catfish (it was good). I also ate fried okra (that was good too). I never ate gumbo or étouffée. I had grits once (but I've had grits before), and ate BBQ a few times (all good).
Family was the bookends of this tour. In Austin it was Dillon. I had a great time hanging out with him and hearing how well his music is improving and fulfilling for him. At the other end in Arkansas, I got to spend some quality time with my sister and brother-in-law, Kim and Gary. Even though Kim and I were raised completely apart, we do have many similarities (nature vs. nurture?). I felt completely welcomed and at home with them. I was thrilled to see my nieces and to meet their husbands. Haley and Brittany have grown up to be beautiful and successful young women. And soon I will be a great-aunt for someone whom I actually share genetic material! It was also a treat for me to get to meet Kim's mom, Betty. She is a wonderfully sweet woman (makes me wonder...but, if not for the course of history, I suppose I would not have existed...). I look forward to seeing all of them again (and not waiting a decade or more to do so!).
As for Christian, he is still my best touring buddy. I think we get along well, in part, because we are both comfortable touring alone. At first look, that doesn't make sense, but what I mean is that we are both okay if we are not together the whole day while we are riding. Yet, it is always great to have someone to talk to in the evening (even though we sometimes struggle with the language barrier--fortunately for me, his English improves, because my German sure doesn't!). I see more touring in our future!
Of course, no wrap up would be complete without a bow, and that would be the stats.
Total miles ridden: 1599.5
Average miles/day for the entire 36 days: 44.4 (obviously higher if not counting the short days in Austin, the days off in Chicot, West Memphis, and, for me, Little Rock)
Longest day with Christian: 81 miles (longest day for me: 89.1 miles)
Days of free camping (not including Austin and Kim and Gary's): 10
And, finally, because I actually kept track this whole tour...Amount spent (not including the stuff for Dillon in Austin): $1296.74 (including airfare) for an ave/day of $36.04. Do you know of any vacation of 36 days where you average $36 a day? Only on a bike tour!