Miles: 3453 (5558 kilometres)
Punctures: 5 (6 including the one we didn’t repair properly the first time…)
Warm Showers: 27
Detours: 3 – Big Bend, Grand Canyon, Truth or Consequences (4 if you count starting at Orlando!)
We went against the masses (obvs) and did the Southern Tier heading West, from Florida to San Diego. Most people go West > East because of the infamous Westerly winds but this didn’t fit in with our plans of heading into Mexico (and Central & South America) after the States. A few nay-sayers along the way thought we’d really suffer at the hands of Mother Nature and don’t get me wrong, we did have our fair share of headwinds — and Edwards took the hit on most of them! —but we’re both so glad we did it this way. We’re lucky in that we haven’t been in a massive rush to cross the states (we had the standard 90 day ESTA) and so any days that were predicted to have really bad weather (high winds or non-stop rain) we just stayed right where we were! This only actually happened 3 times/3 days and from chatting to people travelling the other way it sounds as though they had a similar experience with winds (but we were more lucky with only one day of rain! 😊).
We think it rocks to Go West for three main reasons; the easy rollout; the scenery; and WarmShowers. We’d joked before starting our trip that we’d only need 3 gears to get us across Florida and actually this wasn’t too far from the truth! Florida, Alabama and Louisiana are all really flat meaning that as well as posting our longest distances here we also got into daily life on a bike, and grow in confidence all the way! We didn’t actually see a proper hill until Austin which meant the scenery just got better and better as the months went on, by the time we got to Texas we were ready for some hills and the desert — it didn’t disappoint! Finally, there are WarmShowers* hosts aplenty in the East which again helped with getting into the swing of things and meeting new people happy to have brains picked!
What did we learn? Oooof, so much! Firstly, Southern Hospitality is alive and kissing (see what I did there?)! We got invited to shower/eat/stay with lots of people just from chatting to them over lunch or a coffee. The universe really does deliver what we need exactly when we needed it, whether we knew it or not! Ie. Joey rescuing us from a crack den of an RV park we were heading for with a stay at his lovely house, Ray and his ever-present cigar offering up his shower, Da Vona’s free drinks, Anna’s spare room, Charlie trusting us with his house, James driving us over the hilly river road and loads loads more. I found it really hard at first to accept things from people — ie. “Why are these random people being so nice, what do they want from us?”! I’ve got better at saying ‘yes please’ and not being so bloody British about it, people just want to chat, help and be nice but it took me a while to get used to!
Team work makes the dream work (ha ha ha!). But it actually does. We often have different ways of doing things (which would sometimes end in a strop-on) but we’ve kind of learnt to listen to each other. One of us is better/quicker at repairing punctures, the other at pitching the tent, one at reading a menu at warp speed, the other at deciding what feast we’ll cook up when faced with a wall of salt-ridden processed food. We saw some people who were going it alone and that’s amazing but it’s not something I’d have wanted to do mainly because of the entertainment (think sing-alongs and daily history lessons) but also someone to bounce ideas off and reassure me that I’m not mental.
Listen to people but go with your gut. We’d hear a lot about ‘bad’ areas we were about to enter. These were always well-intentioned and sometimes with good reason but we learned to listen to some and take others with a pinch of salt. We met some characters that we probably wouldn’t have met this way but we would have missed out on a lot and possibly not felt like we’d seen the real South, just stayed in our little echo chamber.
Slow down and enjoy the city ride. Our most “stressful” days are when we’re entering/cycling through/leaving a city. We learnt to slow down and give ourselves loads of time, so we don’t rush and take wrong turns or feel harassed. For example, who knew that Phoenix was SO big?! Well *smug face* we did. And so we gave ourselves a day to just get from one side to the other (we were much more relaxed than in New Orleans where we learnt our lesson…!), it made it so much more enjoyable! Having said that, it’s sometimes pretty daunting to be faced with the ‘no services for 90 miles signs’ too so being out in the sticks can bring it’s own challenges…
Finally, we learned that it’s impossible to buy halloumi in the USA (FWP!), which is both a travesty and a business opportunity. You heard it here first kids.
For what it’s worth, these are our top tips for the Southern Tier:
BUY A MINI AIR HORN! Absolute top tip to see off the chasing dogs of the South 😟. Unfortunately there are many unloved/untrained dogs here, we’d read bad things about Texas but it was all in the East for us (West Florida to Louisiana), I’d got to the point where I was having nightmares about being chased by dogs – and I LOVE dogs! But I don’t love them (of all sizes) barking and snapping at me and my bike at 20mph. The amazing mini air horn confuses the dogs and stops (most of) them in their tracks! $5 at Walmart in the party section, money very well spent 🙂
Talk to people – you never know where you’ll end up! One of us always waited outside a shop with the bikes when we were shopping. EVERY SINGLE TIME, someone would come and talk to us and find out about us, we felt like celebrities!
Don’t be afraid to detour. We were lucky in that we had 3 months to play with, but it meant we could take the advice of locals and we don’t feel that we’ve missed out on anything.
Know your audience and reign it in. Everyone asks the same things: Where are you headed? Where did you come from? How many miles do you do a day? We started out with the full answer: “Well, we’re cycling to San Diego, then we’re turning left into Baja, Mexico and through Central America into South America and then we’re not sure how we’re getting back to the UK yet…” But somewhere around “…turning left into Baja” they’d already had their mind blown. So we started reigning it in depending on the audience, Warmshowers hosts obviously get the full story, the man in the gas station usually gets “To the next town”, which is also true.
So that’s it: here we are in a lovely house in San Diego, warm, fed, happy and safe. Our first 3 months have been incredible and even better than we’d thought they would be mainly thanks to the kind and generous people we’ve met along the way. Warm up done and so now plans are underway (better late than never…) for stage 2 of the trip, Baja and Mexico 🤗 , we can’t flippin’ wait!
* We’re on a budget and so cheap motels for us are as a last resort! We used warmshowers.org/com a lot and met some great people (and some characters!), many of whom we’ll keep in touch with. There are loads of lovely WarmShowers hosts in the West too but they are slightly more spread out which when you’re just starting out would be one more thing to think about when you could be sitting back enjoying the ride already!