After the Second City show, I finished my pizza, put on my riding gear, and started heading south. I had chosen at this point to go all out for the border, just hoping that Isabella wouldn't leave me stranded in the middle of nowhere. New camshaft installed, she seemed to be riding well (the new final drive system installed in Hemmingford meant that we could cruise at lower revs, which helps).
Anyway, I had also resolved to stick away from the interstate system whenever possible. As far as I'm concerned, the interstate shoud really only be for truckers, and those who really need to cover long distances quick (I had over 700km to do in an afternoon to get to Niagara falls). Otherwise, you should check out the side roads, especially as a tourist. Small towns are the interesting destinations of any roadtrip, and interstates often miss them completely. That said, they are the fastest route and sometimes necessary to put some serious kms behind you.
Heading out of Chicago took over an hour, but once out of the metro area, it was smooth sailing from then on out. I stopped in a small town called Greenup, IL and quickly went to bed.
Small town USA lives and breathes on the fortunes of its local high school, and it makes sense. Whereas cities may have professional sporting teams to barrack for, the athletes of the local high school hold the spotlight for these towns. Consequently, each town proudly advertises the past successes of the local teams. Bigger towns tend to follow college level sports - a striking example of the popularity of college athletics is that the Superdome, home to the New Orleans Saints NFL team (and famous refuge during hurricane Katrina) is the second largest stadium in Lousiana. The largest? - Lousiana State University's football stadium in Baton Rouge (by more than 30,000 seats!).
Typical small town pride
I stopped in one small town and visited a historic village, where they recreate what life for pioneers used to be like, using either the original buildings or replicas. It was interesting seeing how these literal trailblazers lived. It is amazing how comfortable our lives have become, and how difficult they once were. What is even more amazing is that these particular pioneers chose this lifestyle - to reach Illinois, they had to pass through several established cities and states. I'm not sure I could have done it, knowing what lifestyle and sacrifices lay ahead.
After stopping in Paragould, AR for dinner at Sonic (by far my favourite takeout joint, sadly missing outside USA) and a quick overnight nap, I headed for Louisiana.
The bonus of this new route - I had no idea what to expect. I passed through dozens of small towns, only to chance upon a tourist destination. And so I passed through the birthplaces of the Jackson 5, Johnny Cash, Paul 'Bear' Bryant and Karl Malone. It was always a pleasant surprise, and a welcome relief from boredom (and backside soreness) to stop at a local destination.
I stopped in Shreveport, LA for the night, and headed into town for two things Louisiana is famous for - Cajun cooking and Jazz. I managed to find some delicious Cajun-style food and a local beer or two, but sadly no jazz. Shreveport is also known for its casinos, located on riverboats on the bank of the main entertainment distict.
It should probably be noted that I have been travelling through some of the most dangerous cities per caipta in the US, completely by accident. Like most places, I've found that exercizing common sense will generally keep you safe. Golden rule: if its dark, and you feel you shouldn't be somwhere, then you probably shouldn't.
Leaving Shreveport in my rear view mirrors, I headed over to the home of the American Rose Society, and apparently the world's largest rose garden. Unfortunately, it seems the society is understaffed, as a large proportion of the garden has fallen into disrepair. Rose maintenance is a constant process, and without proper maintenance, a rose garden can look horrendous. Overall disappointing, although there were some parts of the garden with well maintained and visually appealing specimens.
I've always considered Texas to be a desert state (and the southern areas certainly are), so it was a nice surprise to ride through East Texas and be surrounded by pine forests. I had lunch in Davy Crockett National Park (which gave Isabella her first true off road experience), drank at the Crockett spring in the town of Crockett, before the trees finally gave way to ranches and desert. It should be noted that Davy Crockett and the Alamo is important in Texas. For those who don't know, Texas was part of Mexico, until it split and formed a separate republic, only to join the US later. Hence, a large part of the history of Texas involves the struggle for independance, and subsequent joining of the union.
After spending the night in Brenham, TX, I passed through La Grange (made famous by the ZZ Top song) and visited monument hill, a tomb for soldiers killed in a battle with Mexico. A German immigrant had originally made his home on the bluff now occupied by the tomb, and being German, had naturally built a brewery nearby. Using a mountain stream to not only supply the brewery with the necessary water, but also power the process and cool the brewery is an example of the kind of pioneering spirit that is so impressive in this land.
I decided a while ago that I wouldn't ride through the country at night, so as to avoid interacting with wildlife at speed. The number of wildlife that I have seen crossing the road so far only serve to reinforce that riding at night is dangerous. The wildlife count so far: moose, deer, eagle, groundhog, armadillo, turtle, a couple of cyotes and feral cats, and one very lost daschund in Texas.
Anyway, after travelling through the desert for seemed an eternity (including stopping at as gas station that sponsors a hunting competition), I came upon Laredo, TX - the US border town connected to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. I briefly considered staying in the US for one more night, but decided to cross the border and relax on the South side. As it turns out, crossing the border into Mexico couldn't have been easier- the US had an automated system where a dozen cameras took photos of me (useless with my helmet on) and Isabella's licence plate (less useless). On the Mexican side, I queued up in the declaration line, cursing the fact that I hadn't thrown out a banana I had planned to eat for lunch. But the boomgate wasn't working after a few tries, so the staffer told me to back up, and go through the 'nothing to declare' aisles. After passing by a broken down car (seriously), I got to the gate where i gave the officer the banana, my passport, and the medicines in my bag. She couldn't care less. There's no stamp in my passport, and I didn't have to open my bags. I traveled through a pretty rough area, but found a cheap but decent motel to stay at. And that's how I made it to Mexico.