White Pass and Mt St Helens

22/8/18.  Jake’s father took the hikers back to where they had finished on Monday morning and they set off into the wilderness for two days before they crossed a road again at a place called White Pass where there is a convenience store and gas station, a small hotel and some ski lifts. At the moment there is also a large tented village with food and sanitation trucks for the firefighters who are battling a couple of wildfires in the area.

We had arranged to meet Eleri there so that we could hand over the rest of her supplies (after White Pass it is 5 days’ walk to the next resupply point) and her replacement shoes which were due to be delivered to Cascade Locks on Monday. We had a lovely scenic drive up the Columbia Gorge, picking the shoes up on the way, before turning north into the Yakama Indian Reservation and the Yakima River valley where 75% of the US’s hops are grown.

At the town of Yakima we joined the White Pass Scenic Byway and climbed up through the forested Tieton valley to the eponymous pass which is at 4,500 feet where we hoped to meet Eleri either late the next afternoon or the following morning. We found a basic campsite (drop toilets, no running water but only $8) which was almost empty but could not really be described as “quiet” given its proximity to the road which has a significant number of large trucks passing along it. We read the next day that the road was only completed in 1951 – amazing for a road designated US12.

After checking out the convenience store at the pass we headed down the road for a day of sightseeing. Along the way there were a couple of viewpoints at which we stopped. The first looked north west to Mt Rainier, the highest mountain in Washington state at 14,400 feet and considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. With visibility impaired by the smoke from the fires we could just see the mountain and the many glaciers at its summit and it looked impressive. It must be doubly so when visibility is good.

The second viewpoint faced the Palisades, a rocky cliff formed thousands of years ago when hot lava was suddenly chilled and cooled into hexagonal columns. It, too, was stunning.

We then headed for Mt St Helens which erupted in 1980 when more than 500 million tons of ash and smoke poured out of the ground killing more than 50 people. Vegetation is only slowly returning to the area to the north of the volcano and a lake at the foot of the mountain still has a huge number of trees flaring in it – the aftermath of a “tidal wave” which reached 800 feet up the surrounding slopes when a large part of the mountain slid into the lake. The surface of the lake is still 200 feet higher than it was before the eruption!  We found the whole story jaw dropping.

The next day the atmosphere was even more smokey with visibility even more impaired and a much stronger smell everywhere. After breakfast we emptied all of our belongings, including the bikes, from the car into the tent in case we were required to provide taxi services because the trail coming from the south was diverted away from the fires and emerged onto the road 3 or 4 miles down the hill. We knew that several of the people Eleri was walking with (she is currently in a group of six) had posted boxes of food and other supplies to the convenience store to save carrying them part of the way so they had to get to the Pass.

After checking that they were not already at the store we drove down to the point where the alternative route emerged and sat down to wait. After a couple of hours a hiker appeared and we offered him a lift to the store which he gratefully accepted.

After returning to the spot and waiting another half an hour for Eleri we spotted another couple of hikers getting out of a car. One of them shouted “Are you English and are you waiting for your daughter?”

It turned out that she had taken a different alternative route and spent the night in a small town another 20 miles down the road. She then hitched a lift, stopped at the point we had been waiting when we were doing the Good Samaritan thing and then gone on to the Pass whilst we were driving back down!

When we finally met up there was another round of hugs and parental purchasing of provisions for the offspring, followed by a couple of hours waiting for her friends to make their way up from the town.

All too soon it was time to wave them on their way again. We hope to meet them again tomorrow when the trail crosses another road about 25 miles away.

It turns out that the decision not to wait until Eleri reaches Canada before springing the surprise was an excellent one, as the last 20 miles of the trail are closed because of more fires there and it is not possible to walk into Canada. The hikers are all praying for rain in the coming days in the hope that it will be reopened in time for them to complete the trail.

Surprise, Surprise

19/8/18. As you may have seen from the previous post we are on the West Coast of the US to give our daughter Eleri a big surprise. She has been walking the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mexican border to Canada since early April and is now on the last stretch.

Back in February, when our house in Surrey was on the market but not yet sold, we had the idea that we could meet her as she finished the Trail but, because we didn’t know when she would finish, we had a problem.  She had a start date and thought it would take about 5 months, so we decided to fly 3 weeks either side of her estimated target date of 5 September and make a long holiday of it with the bikes in British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.

We also thought it would be good fun to see her face when she finished the 2,650 mile hike and unexpectedly saw her parents at the same time. We just hoped that she wouldn’t be too shocked or embarrassed !

In the months that followed, whenever we spoke to her, it was mighty difficult not blurting out the secret. Agreeing to sell the house and moving out in May didn’t complicate matters. What did, however, was finding our new house and being unable to move in until 1 August – only 2 weeks before we were due to fly to Vancouver. But the flights were booked so we were going! If we hadn’t unpacked everything by then it would still be waiting for us when we got back at the end of September.

As things drew closer we began to have doubts about delaying the meeting until Eleri was at the end and so made the decision to hire a car and drive to wherever she was straight after we arrived on the West Coast.

The flight was, thankfully, unremarkable other than being the first time either of us had flown on an Airbus 380 (the enormous double decker jobs) and was followed by a bus trip (courtesy of the American rail company, Amtrak) to Seattle the next day. We had a night in a most odd hotel – the address was 605½ (similar to Platform 9¾ in the Harry Potter books) Main St – which we discovered subsequently is a Historic Monument because it was a boarding house catering for Japanese immigrants saying dating back to 1910. It has been preserved in the same state as when the Japanese were rounded up and sent to camps following Pearl Harbour. An authentic 1940’s experience with creaky bedsprings, ancient sinks and bathroom down the hall!

Then we picked up a car and headed for Portland, Oregon, because Eleri had just crossed into Washington state and was spending a couple of nights in a very small town called Cascade Locks, where there was a “show” for hikers at the weekend.

The next problem was how to locate her without calling her and letting her know we were in town! On her phone she had an app which showed her location when she was in a place  with a phone signal and this showed her to be at the western end of the long, narrow town. So on the Saturday morning we arranged on WhatsApp to have a “chat” with her in an hour’s time and headed of down the interstate to Cascade Locks. She had said she was going for breakfast so we found a diner in the vicinity of her location and there she was in the breakfast queue!

As you can see from the video it was a complete surprise for her and rather an emotional one for all three of us. She had thought a couple of things we had said recently were a little odd (nothing new there, then!) but had dismissed the thought while we were a little stunned that we had pulled it off! The group who she was with all seemed impressed with our feat and Eli, an Australian, said he was going to send a photo of the three of us to his parents asking when they were coming!

We spent the rest of the day with Eleri looking round the show (only small – she was grateful as the last thing she wanted to do was a lot of walking) and going for a drive up the very pretty Columbia River Gorge.

On Sunday we met up with Eleri and her friends for breakfast again but this time in Portland as Jake’s father (they are from Oregon) had given them a lift into town so they could go shopping for equipment at a big camping store and food supplies in somewhere larger than the small convenience stores in most trail towns.

We’re in the US Again!

We’ve come over to the West Coast of the US to meet up with our daughter Eleri who is walking the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles from the Mexican border to the Canadian border!) Although we booked the flights back in February, we managed to keep it secret from her. This video (apologies for the rubbish camerawork but Stephen makes no claim to be an expert and he was rather caught up in the moment) shows the meeting in a diner in Cascade Locks on the Oregon/Washington border.

The Circle Completed

6/4/17. Apologies for the hiatus in posts – but life has been relatively unexciting since OBX – not that that is a bad thing,  just not much to write about. We are now back in Fort Lauderdale and get on the boat back to Blighty in a couple of days time.

Disembarking from the ferry where we left you last time we drove for a couple of hours or so to Charleston where we checked into the primitive camping area of a county park to the south of the city.  It was “primitive” in the sense that it was pretty much a field so there were no individual sites but there was a central toilet area – so very similar to the tent area at a European campsite.

The intention was to get up early (for us) and go for a wander around one of the classic Southern cities. However, Stephen managed to put the mockers on that idea by locking the only car key in the boot – sorry, trunk – of the car! An hour and a half later and $129 lighter (“It’s a high security car so it is expensive”. Yeah! So high security that all that is needed is 2 air bags to prise the door out of its seating to allow a metal rod to be inserted to operate the door handle!) we were ready to go. Because of the enforced wait, Christine was wanting to be on the road (and Stephen was at his most acquiescent!) so Charleston will have to wait for another time.

We headed down the (unexciting) main drag and by midday crossed the state line into Georgia and another of the antebellum cities, Savannah. As we had caught up some of the time spent waiting for the car to be “released” we decided to have a look around.

And we were mighty impressed! There was a real sense of history about the place with many lovely buildings and beautifully shady squares. We followed a walking tour route recommended by the visitors’ centre and enjoyed it immensely. Given that the guidebook said Savannah is slightly “seedy” or “down at heel’ in comparison to Charleston, we had a slight feeling of having missed out. Next time.

Then it was back on the road heading towards Florida down the I95 interstate, a bit of a yawn but enlivened by more episodes of The History Of England podcast. We had listened to the first 140 or so episodes (!) independently but, since the start of the road trip, we were trying to  get “up to date” – by which we mean listening to the next 70 episodes through the end of The Hundred Years War and The War of The Roses to the start of the Tudors! If you like history then we can thoroughly recommend this series (although we will concede that 210+ episodes, increasing by approx one per fortnight, is a bit of a daunting prospect!)

The next couple of days were an unexciting “blast” down the coast of Georgia and Florida, mostly down the interstate but every so often we took the more scenic minor roads nearer the sea, until we reached Fort Lauderdale on Saturday evening to return the car at the airport.

On Sunday morning we reconstructed the bikes and headed off northwards to Boca Raton, mirroring our first day cycling in the States (see http://www.christineandstephen.co.uk/2016/11/howdie-pardners/) to stay with Tommie and Vance as we had done back in November.

The journey to Boca Raton had been difficult for Christine despite being only 40 pan flat km because of the heat. We followed the quieter coastal route up the A1A which was almost entirely through residential areas with little shade and almost nowhere to get a bit of air conditioning. As the temperature was above 90°F (low to mid 30s in real money) it was all a little too much for Christine and spying a small tree she flopped into the miniscule shade offered.

At this point a pickup stopped and a “good samaritan” insisted we take a 10 lb bag of ice out of his cool box. Christine was soon stuffing ice cubes down the front of her bra, under her headscarf and anywhere else that they would stay unaided. After about 10 minutes of this extreme cooling she started to recover and lose some of the red colour that had been overtaking her whole face as a prelude to heatstroke.

The last 10 km to Tommie and Vance’s house were much less traumatic as a result and we made it there before the good work of the ice bag was undone.

They were as delightful and welcoming as previously! We had a lovely time with like-minded souls and took very little persuading to have a day watching movies and stay a second night with them! Especially as the temperature was at least as warm – the thermometer in the garden indicating 90° at 10 am.

With some reluctance we said goodbye to them on Tuesday morning but we hope to spend some time with them in June when they come to the UK on a tour of sites with historical connections to the Wingfield family.

We headed back south to Fort Lauderdale, or more particularly Hollywood, but followed the federal highway US1, inland a little, on the expectation (justified thankfully) that there would be more places to cool down. As a result we took coffee/ ice cream/snack breaks every 10 km or so to keep Christine’s temperature under control until we reached the house of Dave and Leo, WarmShowers hosts where we had spent the first two nights in the country.

They too are a wonderful couple making us feel completely at home and we were delighted to agree that they will stay with us for a few nights in June when they are attending a wedding near Reading.

The Outer Banks of North Carolina

28/3/17. On Monday morning, in much improved weather,we set off on the last 100 or so miles to the North Carolina coast and a chain of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks or OBX. The first, Roanoke Island, is not actually one of the barrier islands as it is sheltered from the Atlantic by another, Hatteras. We stopped at the small town of Manteo, named after a former native american chief who was friendly to Sir Walter Raleigh, and had a very pleasant time wandering around the quaint old streets and buildings. The town was founded by Raleigh, or at least some colonists who he brought from the UK. There was a replica of his ship (we wouldn’t fancy crossing the ocean in anything so tiny – give us a huge cruise liner with massive stabilisers any day of the week!) and a street named after him.

Then it was onto the barrier islands proper which are a National Seashore, in the care of the National Park Service. To be perfectly frank it was a little disappointing as neither the ocean nor the sound on the other side were visible for much of the way. The sand dunes were nice enough but were enhanced by the occasional view of the water, and the houses in the small towns all looked rather nice, many having small “towers” which were reminiscent of the lighthouses fot which this part of the coast is well known.

The Labrador Current meets the Gulf Stream just offshore and this makes for rough seas, apparently, which have led to many shipwrecks over the years. It was also a favourite place for U Boats to hunt in WW2.

We visited the Hatteras lighthouse which is the second tallest brick built lighthouse in North America (or was it the world?) Because the Atlantic is eroding the east coast of the islands and depositing the sand on the western side, they are creeping towards the mainland. By the 1990s the lighthouse, which had been built a safe distance from the sea, was in danger of being engulfed by the waves, so they moved it! It was separated from its foundations, lifted up and placed on rollers which ran along 7 rails, and in three days it was about half a mile inland!

The campgrounds that are part of the National Seashore/Park do not open until April so we camped in a private one – at an extortionate cost. The book rate was $32 + tax (which rises to $50 from late May to September) for a tent site without water or electricity on the site itself. Thankfully we had been given a voucher when we visited a tourist information office which entitled us to a 15% discount but it was still over $28 when the taxes were added in! The site was beautiful, being right on the shore and we even had a beaver washing itself to entertain us in the evening. Shame the restrooms were filthy!

On Tuesday we made our way south via two ferries. The first of these ran every hour and was free, on a “first come, first served basis”. We missed the 9 o’clock sailing and so we were second in line for the next one with a ¾ hour wait. We were astonished to find that the trip took an hour but when we set off it became clear why. The ferries use the sound side of the islands (understandably because it is like a millpond compared to the ocean side) but this is very shallow and the route is a roundabout one following the dredged channel. At one pount we slowed to a stop to allow a ferry coming the other way to pass through a particularly narrow stretch (ithe channel is marked by buoys so even landlubbers like us can work out where we should be going).

The second ferry required (or at least recommended – we heard both) reservations and only ran 3 times a day – early morning, lunchtime and late afternoon so we wanted to be sure of making our online reservation on the 1 pm sailing with check in ½ hour before. We made it comfortably and set about trying to top up Stephen’s caffeine levels. This was not as straightforward as it sounds as most places were still on low season trading hours – which appeared to mean midday opening or not at all!

Eventually we found an ice cream shop that also served coffee and Christine fed her hot chocolate “habit” having decided that $6 was too steep a price to pay for the milkshake that she actually fancied.

“In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia…

26/3/17. …On the trail of the lonesome pine.”

Our time in Kentucky was limited to 4 or 5 hours as our next main goal was the coast of North Carolina and we had made a bit of a detour to the north in order to scratch an itch by visiting the Bluegrass State. We did see a lot of bluegrass as we nipped across the southeastern corner of the state although it looked to us to be more purple than blue (it is actually flowers in amongst the grass rather than the grass itself) and it looked rather pretty.

Turning south, we crossed into Virginia and drove along yer actual Trail of the Lonesome Pine (at least, or a road that has now been given that name) for quite some distance. We saw an awful lot of pine trees, none of which looked particularly lonely!

The countryside had been one of steep hills and valleys since the northern part of Tennessee but the height of them increased as we entered the Appalachian Mountains. We spent the night in a hotel in Abingdon as, being further north, most of the state parks’ campgrounds have not yet opened for the summer season.

The next day being Sunday we went our separate ways for a couple of hours with Christine enjoying the service in one of the more friendly churches she has visited in the States, while Stephen added another tick to the “cycled in” list by riding along part of the Virgina Creeper Trail, a disused railway through a pretty river valley.

By the time Stephen returned to the hotel the threatened rain had arrived – the edge of a weather system bringing severe thunderstorms, hail and even possible tornadoes for northern Texas, Oklahoma and western Arkansas where we were only a few days ago. This rain restricted the views as we passed through the mountains, especially when we were driving through the clouds, which was disappointing – but at least we were not out on our bikes in it. Cycling up mountains in the rain is low down on Christine’s list of pleasurable activities – only the cold was missing it being passably warm (in the low teens centigrade).

Crossing into North Carolina, the rain eased as we descended from the mountains and we made for the main roads so we could put in some distance to get to the coast. The countryside flattened out and it was a not particularly inspiring drive. At about 7 o’clock we flopped into a motel having covered nearly 400 miles.

After the enjoyable church/cycling start, it had been one of the least enjoyable days in the States. The weather didn’t help but, if we are going to have rain, at least it came when we were not sightseeing.

Three Days in Tennessee

24/3/17. Stephen was up early on Wednesday morning to go cycling – so that he could tick off another state as “cycled in”! (Sad I know, but it keeps him amused.) He had plotted a route to follow that was mainly on the main cycle route in the city alongside the Arkansas River.

The first bit (getting to the river) was somewhat complicated but after that it was straightforward. However, because he had omitted to download a map of Arkansas for his Garmin and then left his phone (which had a map) in the hotel room along with his room key, he was unable to find his way to the river. (Christine was asleep in the room and he knew better than to wake her!)

As a result he thrashed around in an area of very nice houses (perhaps where the Clintons lived as up and coming lawyers/politicians before governors’ mansions and White Houses were the order of the day) before giving up and returning to the hotel. Still it was a pleasant enough ride and, being quite hilly, got the blood flowing.

When he returned Christine was up, so breakfast and packing were completed and then we set off eastwards. The countryside on that side of Little Rock was a complete contrast to the western side. It was dead flat – the Arkansas delta – and, apart from a stretch of swamp that reminded us of Louisiana, rich farmland.

Eventually we reached the Mississippi, which forms the border between Arkansas and Tennessee, and Memphis. Not being big music fans, Memphis didn’t have any particular attraction for either of us although the thought of seeing Graceland had a certain appeal – until we read in the guide book that it cost $40 each – not that much appeal!

We pressed on through the seemingly endless eastern suburbs of the city until we were back in open country and eventually reached Big Hill Pond SP where we were the only campers.

The weather had been much cooler all day (high teens rather than around 30 only the previous day) and by the time darkness came it was decidedly nippy. We both climbed into our sleeping bags for the first time for many nights – we have been using sheets only and pulling the sleeping bags over us as a sort of duvet in the coolest part of the night.

A few days earlier Stephen had mentioned that he fancied seeing a Civil War battlefield if we passed near one. Well, we were within 20 miles of Shiloh or Pittsburg Landing which was the scene of a major battle in 1862 and is now a National Park, so we hightailed it there.

The visitor center shows a 45 minute movie reenactment every hour which was very well done and informative. Then we followed a 13 mile driving trail seeing the various places mentioned in the film where the battle ebbed and flowed. It was excellent! And, even better, it was free! Apart from a few preserved farmers’ fields, the whole battlefield is and was covered in trees and shallow but steep ravines. Fighting must have been very difficult. There were more than 3,500 men killed and 16,000 wounded in two days of fighting.

We spent about 3 hours there so it was well into the afternoon before we were on our way again. The country was getting wilder and prettier again as we headed for another state park (David Crockett this time!)

Friday was a day of driving through pretty landscapes heading north east as we had a yen to visit Kentucky.  There was no good reason – just a desire to say we had been there! We stopped just before the state line in yet another state park (Standing Stone) and, for once, early enough for Stephen to go for a short bike ride before dinner. That’s Tennessee ticked off as well now!

We Now Know All About Feral Hogs!

21/3/17. (That’s pronounced “hawgs” by the way.)

We knew nothing about Arkansas other than that Bill Clinton was born there and was governor before he became president. However, it was off to a good start and the Lonely Planet Guide waxes lyrical about many parts of the Natural State.

In the morning we started descending from Rich Mountain and Queen Wilhelmina SP, passing through heavily wooded countryside with just a few small towns and villages. It was all rather lovely, if not quite as breathtaking as the previous afternoon.

After a while we reached Hot Springs which claimed to be the hometown of Bill Clinton. It is also a spa town which was infamous for the gangsters who visited in its heyday in the 1920’s, including Al Capone. Only one of the row of bathhouses still performs its original function but they are all well maintained and an obvious draw for the tourists. We had a very pleasant couple of hours wandering around and lunching in a pancake shop.

Then we headed off towards the state capital of Little Rock where we checked into a motel (no campsites in the area that we could find). After a FaceTime conversation with The Two Doctors (our oldest and his girlfriend) we hit downtown Little Rock.

Our first stop was the Capitol which, we were to be told, was modeled on the Washington Capitol and has been used in several movies. We entered passing through a body scanner similar to those at airports and saw people milling about deep in conversation. It was immediately apparent that this was a “working building” so we asked one of the policeman standing by the entrance if the public were allowed to enter. “Sure thing” he said so in we went.

It was a very imposing building but, even more impressive was how we could wander anywhere in the corridors and landings. Obviously the offices were “out of bounds” but the doors to the governor’s office were wide open and, as we gawped in, a man came up to us to engage in conversation.

“Hi. I’m Larry. Where’re y’all from?”

“England.”

“Is that England, Arkansas? Or England, England?”  (Next day we saw signs to the town of England!)

We then headed towards the Senate and, when we dithered outside the doors, one of the security men told us to go in. It was not in session but they were obviously on a tea break or similar as there were laptops, etc on many of the desks.

Next up was the House of Representatives. This was in session so we could not enter but one of the twenty or so people hanging around outside (lobbyists? journalists?) suggested we went up to the visitors’ gallery.

It was presumably a day of humdrum business because we watched two bills being passed with almost no debate. However, then came a one line bill relating to the killing of trapped feral “hawgs” (hence the title of this post) which was a little more contentious.

It was fascinating! It included the immortal question “What is the difference between a domestic hog and a feral hog?” and the inevitable answer “One is a domestic hog and the other is a feral hog”!! Everyone fell about laughing.

We tore ourselves away in the end but by this time the main attractions in the city had closed for the evening so we found an old style diner playing 60’s music for a good old American burger and fries.

The Long and Winding Road

20/3/17. On Saturday morning Sheila and Robin kindly drove us back to the airport so we could pick up the hire car. It was strange to be driving again for the first time since October – and the Americans don’t help by putting the steering wheel on the wrong side either!

Avoiding the interstate in favour of what we hoped were more scenic roads, we headed north. We had initially hoped to get to the last state park before the Oklahoma state line that night but soon realised this was overly ambitious. After all, we are in no tearing hurry – we have the car for 2 weeks – and we had to get through Dallas which looked to be a rather daunting spaghetti of major roads. So we instead aimed for Fairfield Lake State Park to the south of the city, and even then we arrived after the office closed (4.30 does strike us as rather early for a leisure/tourist facility to close on a Saturday afternoon). There were also signs saying reservations were necessary and our hearts sank.

However, the manager was standing around and told us that he thought a couple of people had left early so we should just find an empty site and pay in the morning. Hurrah!

With the tent set up Stephen went for a walk along one of the marked trails, which confirmed our very favourable opinion of state parks.

Setting off next morning, we headed towards JR Ewing Town. As we approached the centre it was all going swimmingly. We switched from a north-south freeway to one heading east-west for a short while and then, in a section of roadworks, saw the signs for the road to the north west out of town. We were looking good!

And then all of a sudden, we were in the wrong lane and siphoned off towards Downtown!

We can deal with this. There are the signs for the road we should be on. Just follow them onto this slip road.

What! The slip road was coned off!

We were headed into Downtown.

And guess what.

It was the day of the Dallas half marathon!

We crawled around for half an hour until we saw yet more signs to the road we wanted and suddenly we were off with (relatively) clear roads in front of us.It was a long way out of the city with freeways and interstates and highways and turnpikes all intermingling in spectacular intersections with bridges and slip roads heading in all directions sometimes stacked 4 or 5 high. It is really not our sort of place but it was fascinating to see.

Eventually we found our way out and onto a quiet road heading past ranches and small towns. Much better.

We crossed into Oklahoma and made our way towards Sulphur (some hot springs apparently although we saw no sign if them) and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area where the campsite was located. In southern Texas the trees were starting to come into leaf and the spring flowers were out but here it was a long way further back – pretty much the only green to be seen was on conifer trees – making it look like winter rather than spring.

However, the temperature put the lie to that as it was around 30°C with the sun beaming down out of a near cloudless sky. We felt slightly disorientated by the contrasting evidence of what we saw and what we felt.

Having “done” Oklahoma by spending the night there, we headed east the next morning, still avoiding the interstates and sticking to what appeared to be the old highway that was roughly parallel. We passed through very pleasant farming land and woods until, in early afternoon, we passed into the sign for Talimena State Park.

In front of us we could see some high hills, or even small mountains. There was a sign saying 13% gradients ahead and indicating that the road could be closed in bad weather. Thankfully it was glorious so we headed upwards.

What a fabulous road. It was signposted as an American Scenic Byway and it was most certainly scenic. It reminded us very much of the Hog’s Back as the road followed the ridge with the land falling away steeply with spectacular vistas on either side.

But, this being America, it had to be bigger and better! It was longer, higher, quieter, more spectacular than its counterpart in dear old Surrey. There were many lay-bys to pull into and we kept stopping to enjoy the view. The wind was blowing strongly from the south and, at one of the stops, we read that this was very common. It restricts the growth of the white oaks (the main species of tree here) to 10-20 feet – dwarfs compared to the 100+ feet achieved in less windswept and lower areas.

We crossed into Arkansas still on this lovely road and entered the Queen Wilhelmina State Park which has a campsite on the last major peak in the range (Rich Mountain) where we spent the night. There was a rather nice hotel right by the campsite and we were mighty tempted but decided that, having already blown our budget because of the car hire, we should restrict ourselves to the $16 camp fee rather than $100 + taxes for a room. In fact, the view from our tent was at least as good and we were closer to nature. Which might not actually be a good thing as there were signs that we were in “Bear Country”! As it turned out we did not see one (phew!) but we made sure to store all the food in the car.

Back in the USA

18/3/17. (With apologies to The Beatles!) The flight from Chetumal to Houston was uneventful apart from our confusion over changing time zones.  Mexico City, where we had a 2.5 hour “layover”, is an hour behind both Chetumal and Houston (which has just put the clocks forward).

Immigration clearance took more than an hour (an unpleasant reminder of experiences at Heathrow!) but we were grateful that Trump’s latest travel ban, which was supposed to start on the day we travelled, had been deferred by a judge in Hawaii.

Sheila, one half of our WarmShowers hosts who had been looking after our bikes and other belongings while we were in Central America, had very kindly offered to pick us up and amazingly managed to judge our immigration clearance time and her negotiation of the traffic jam in the airport almost to perfection so that we waited no more than 5 minutes before we saw her waving as the car pulled into the pickup area.

We were very grateful to her and Robin for their hospitality and the opportunity to spend the next day (Friday) getting our heads straight for the last three weeks in the States before getting on the cruise back home.

In thinking about how to get back to Florida, we had considered and dismissed flying (a bit of a hassle and always a bit of a risk with bikes),Greyhound bus (we couldn’t see whether they would take bikes or not) and the train (bizarrely we would need to go via Chicago and New York and pack the bikes in boxes).

In the end we decided on a “road trip” in a hired car and, rather than go back over the coastal route we cycled, we are going to head inland a bit so we see a little of Oklahoma and Arkansas (states we are unlikely to have the opportunity to visit again).