Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Dallas World Aquarium - Day 26

He held still until I finally managed to take a photo of him. While his buddy kept running back and forth in the cage.

They were a little too fast for the camera. And at the same time so keen on being photographed.

Look closely. The little bat had just woken up and was stretching and yawning, showing his little sharp teeth. 

Is this my prince? They wouldn't let me try and find out.

Presenting: 'The Muppet Water Ballet'.

Beautiful and weird. Like a seahorse paired with a coral reef. 

They couldn't be less interested in the public feeding. Who could blame them? I don't like eating when people are watching me. Or maybe they had to wait, to let the cutest one be fed first? Who knows. Live in captivity sucks in so many ways! 

Birds with hats.

Crab. I really don't know how he manages to walk? I'd get knots in my legs or break them.

Looking a little worried or annoyed, aren't we?

Another mix of fish and coral reef. Beauty!

Always good to have a saw on you. Just in case you need to fell a tree.

No comment needed. Seahorses are the loveliest creatures.

Snake! No touching this time.

"Knock knock." "Who's there?" "Who." "Who, 'Who'?" "What are you, an owl?"
Oh yes I am! And a pretty one, too.

"I feel pretty, oh so pretty!"

"We don't care, so don't care."

"Hmmm. Where did I go wrong?"

"Life is so hard. How am I supposed to deal with all of this. I'm so worried. I worry all the time." I would have loved to hug the little guy and told him that everything was going to be alright.


Doing what a sloth is supposed to do. Being a sloth.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Hot In The City - Day 24 & 25

I'm well aware that I'm still 10 degrees Celsius and 20-30 Fahrenheit below from what I can expect to encounter during this trip. And about 40 percentage points of humidity. But boy, it's hot and humid in Austin. Having spent three weeks in the desert and lived in San Francisco for so long certainly doesn't help me with coping with the heat. Just seeing people jog makes me sweat. Not to mention moving myself. And yet, I made it out today to explore the city. And ended, after a two mile walk across the river and alongside it, in a shady spot in a wine bar :-). The river was full with people in canoes or paddle boards. Guess, I wasn't the only one suffering in the heat and looking for a relief.

I stayed at the bar for a little bit before I walked back towards downtown to get some wine and food and have a little picnic at the Barton Springs Pool. It's a pool in a little side arm of the Colorado. Part of it is a pool you have to pay for to use but further downstream you can just jump in the river and swim. And that's what I did, once it got dark. The water was nice and cool and there were fireflies everywhere. That's one thing you can't do in San Francisco. Be outside at night, swim and not be cold. Fabulous. And it certainly did make me like this city more.

And there was another thunderstorm at night. I've never heard thunder that loud. The house was shaking. I don't want to imagine riding into one of these storms on my bike. But it looks like my weather luck might run out pretty soon. I'm leaving Dallas on Thursday and no matter how often I check my weather apps, there will be rain and thunderstorms on Thursday. And along from New Orleans to Florida and Savannah, it's not liking better. Rain galore. But I knew what I was getting into with this trip and I'll manage somehow. It's hot, after all, so I won't be cold. Just wet. And wet will cool me down. On the other hand, the weather seems to change by the second and it seems unpredictable. So, I'll stay positive and hope that I'll have good riding weather, wherever I go. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Green Green Hills Of ... Texas - Day 23

Still Texas. And who would have thought that Texas would be so green and beautiful. Certainly not I. Today I rode from Junction to Austin. A short ride of 170 miles. Junction had already been way greener and more humid than Marfa. The last proof for that I got when I talked to the guy in the pizza place while my, surprisingly great pizza for a gas station-like shop-in-shop, was in the oven. Within a minute I got bitten 5 times by mosquitos. Texan mosquitos are so incredibly efficient. I almost like them...

I chose to ride on highways instead of the scary interstate. Even on highways you can go 75 mph here which is more than enough for me, given the wind and the shitty state the Texan roads are in. It makes me wonder, is that because of all the huge 4-wheel-drive trucks that people drive or do they drive those trucks because the roads are so shitty? At 90 miles per hour with strong winds, you don't want the smooth pavement to just disappear from under your wheels.
That's no fun. The highway was a little better, not quite like Californian or Arizonan highways but at least there was significantly less traffic. Despite Memorial Day Weekend. 

The scenery left and right of the road was very beautiful, though. Green meadows, hills, farms that already had the pretty southern style with porches and swings on oak trees, lots of green trees and yellow, red and orange flowers along the road. And sometimes whole fields of orange framed by green. I wanted to take a photo for my friend Tracey, who loves orange flowers so much. But there never was an option to stop at the right place. So I'll just have to describe it for her. 

I love the San Francisco climate. It's predictable, not too hot or cold, you can get hot when you want to, it's hardly ever too hot to sleep. It's dry so you don't get drenched in sweat after walking for two minutes. And I could live with desert climate, I think. But humidity kills me. But at the same time, it gives me this warm, fuzzy feeling that you get when you come across something that reminds you of the endless summers of childhood. And hot, humid summer nights do that for me.

Now I'm in Austin. I've heard so much about this city. And it falls into the same category as Portland, Oslo, and even Sydney. Walkable, close to a body of water. It even does have a nice promenade and trails along the waterfront. Good food and great bars as well as a lot of really nice people. But there are so many ugly hotels everywhere. Particularly along the riverfront. And it's a big party town. Like San Francisco. It's different from the rest of Texas and maybe, I just haven't seen enough of it, yet. But I'm not quite blown away. Well, I do like the thunderstorm that's raging outside right now. Far enough away to not cause flooding and mayhem but loud and bright enough to enjoy from afar.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Marfa, Snakes, And Goodbye Again - Days 21 & 22

And I am back on the road again. After a few days and a really great time in Marfa with Beth I had to say goodbye once again and am now on my way to Austin. I love how with this trip, I don't only get to see so much of this country and places that make my eyes water and my heart want to jump out of my chest. No, I'm making friends. Previous strangers who open their homes for me without ever having met me before. And after a few days, their homes feel like home to me. They've become friends. And then I have to leave. And it feels like I'm leaving home all over again. Until I meet the next stranger and it all starts anew.

The week in Marfa was quiet and relaxing. The perfect mix between culture, nature, company, solitude, and action. We went to the Chinati Foundation art exhibition. Modern art in former cavalry barracks. The main piece, 100 huge, equally sized, yet each unique pieces of metal distributed over two large buildings. At one point in the first building, I had a little trouble breathing. First I thought it was because of the heat and stale air in the buildings or the guide's deodorant or aftershave that stung my nose. Especially as he managed to constantly be upwind from me. But then I realized what it was. The exhibition, the whole site of the foundation, reminded me of the concentration camps I have visited in Germany. Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. The heat and the smell didn't help. Neither Beth not any of the other visitors or the guide had ever been to one. And I'm sure, neither had the artist. It certainly made the experience special to me.

That night, after Beth came home from work, we sat on the patio and watched lightning dance all over the horizon. It went on for quite a while and some of them were huge and illuminated half the sky. Even though they must have been hundreds of miles away because we didn't even hear thunder. Seeing the lightning reminded me that I've had huge luck with the weather so far. It's hot, sure, but so far I've only had the one day of rain. I'm sure there will be more. And it's not just rain. But thunderstorms and tornados. I'll have to watch the forecast closely and plan accordingly. 

The next day we went horseback riding. We had beaten the crowds, so instead of having to go with 20 other tourists, it was just us and the guide. At the reception of the ranch, I found a Barbie doll that was wearing the same tshirt I have at home. So, naturally, I took the doll with me, after the girl behind the desk had seen the photo and said, I should take her.

After the ranch we stopped at the Rattlesnake Museum. Where they have 18 of the 33 types of rattlers. These guys are very pretty, when behind glass. I learned that many of them live in all the states that I still need to go through. Very reassuring. And when I got outside and back in the car, Beth told me that she once drove past one and it stroke at her car! That's yet another thing to add to my list of things I don't want to happen to me while riding. 

Before we head home we had lunch at a diner and I got to do another napping cowboy photo. I was cowboying like crazy and thought I was really cool. Until the waitress in the diner called me "adorable". I'm not sure that's a word one uses to describe a real cowboy.

On my way home from dinner last night, when I got to the part of the way where there was only a street lamp at every other corner, I remembered the snakes and used my flashlight to make sure I wouldn't step on one by accident. Not something I remember ever having had to do when I walked home.

Today we drove up to Balmorhea to the fresh water pool for swimming. Such a beautiful pool, crystal clear water, fishes and turtles and snakes, too. I was glad that Beth had told me that there would be snakes. Non poisonous, but still. So I got exited rather than freaked out when I saw a six foot long snake snaking along our backpacks. Even though I should have just left it alone, I couldn't resist to touch it. But it seemed like he was used to people and just went a little faster to get to where he wanted to go. 

And then I had to say goodbye to Beth. She was a great companion for a week and it sure felt I'd been with her for much longer, given all the adventures we've been though! I am going to miss her a lot.

Now I'm a few hundred miles farther east. About 2.5 hours from Austin. I've ridden more than 3,300 miles so far. And I feel a little lonely. After almost two weeks of being in the company of others,  I'll have to be on my own now for almost two weeks. While right now I feel like I did on my first day, sad and homesick (not sure for what placed though), it should be getting better, soon. 

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Me - Day 20

Doing some serious Sand Angeling  here...

Practicing worst case scenario, i.e. bike dies ("It's been very lonely in the saddle since the bike died.")

My "I can't fucking believe this!" pose.

Sand Planking or just enjoying life to the max.

That's a lot of United States still ahead of me.

So I better keep riding.

Road by road and mile by mile.

And take a nap every now and then.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

West Texas - Day 18 & 19

Yesterday, I crossed the border to Texas. The ride was pretty easy. Only 250 miles and Beth had my luggage in her car. However, heavy winds and an army of rabbits and hares that must have been half lemming the way they darted across the highway right in front of cars. Highway 90 from I10 to Marfa was covered with their carcasses. One would think those served as warnings to watch out before crossing that piece of, obviously deadly asphalt. But every other mile another harakiri bunny tried his luck. A few times I had to break or swerve. And not just the bunnies posed a danger but also the huge vultures that feasted on the abundance of fresh roadkill. One time four or five of them were sitting in the middle of the road, picking away at road kill. I started honking a bit away. At first I thought they wouldn't even get out of my way until they slowly realized that I might be more dangerous for them than I looked and slowly started flying away. The last one left just a few meters in front of me.

The wind had been quite heavy with a few gusts. At one point, one of them got me so heavy that the bike almost moved into the other lane. With hardly any traffic that wasn't really dangerous but I became even more alert. And hoped to not encounter of a combination of wind, bunny, and oncoming traffic at the same time.

When you do a Google image search for Marfa, Texas (on the map it's south east of El Paso, very close to the Mexican border), you will see a lot of photos of a Prada store in the middle of nowhere and people posing in front of it. That store is an art installation and actually almost 40 miles outside of Marfa. Naturally, I had planned to get our (bike's and mine) picture taken in front of it. But I almost missed the little house by the road. 

In the evening we left town with Shane, a friend of Beth who had kindly offered to take us to Pinto Canyon, 40 miles southwest of Marfa, 10 miles of that rough and steep gravel road. The driving turned out to be less uncomfortable than I thought it would be.

And the trip was most certainly worth it. Along endless acres of farmland, where you can spend a day on a horse and not find one cow! And once we drove downhill into the canyon with the evening sun, lots of beautiful views.

Eventually, we got to what is left of Rio Grande at that point and sat down with our beers, enjoying the sunset and the warm evening air. Once the bats came out, the mosquitos finally stopped biting.

And then the stars came out. So many. We lay on our backs on the warm rocks and watched them appear and glow, unspoiled by any artificial light so far away from the next town. Inspired by their lights, an army of fireflies was glowing and blinking away all around us. These guys are so magical. I wish I could be glowing in the dark. Well, I guess if I eat enough fish caught in the pacific, I eventually would...

Shane killed the mood a little when he said he regretted not bringing his gun, given that we were at the main waterhole in the area and he didn't want to encounter hungry mountain lions. Those are the few situations where I am actually pro gun. Although I feel that the three of us could have probably scared one away without having to hurt him. But still. We used a flashlight to look around us to see if there might be any. I don't know, but until then in the dark, I felt comfortable and not scared. But once we illuminated the area, I kind of expected to see all kinds of predators prepared to charge, kill and eat us. But none could be seen.

Still, at 10pm we made our way back to the car. Using the flashlights to make sure we won't break a leg in the creek with all those rocks. When I shone my flashlight on the rock in front of us we were about to step on, I saw this pretty guy:

A wolf spider. At that point I was glad to have the light and didn't step on him. When we drove back, the moon was rising over the mountains and shone his soft light on fields and hills. And the dead bunnies we left behind. And even one or two hawks came so close to the car that we actually ducked our heads and could see their feet.

Now, after an evening ride I am sitting on Beth's patio while the air is getting cooler. This part of the country makes me forget how crowded and loud San Francisco is. It's what I needed so much. Quiet, wide, open, and empty. Well, except from Cowboys, snakes, mountain lions, and a bunch of huge bugs: