Gone a-touring

The lady lurches through the lounge car.  

”Where’s the dining car?” She shouts. “Can anyone tell me where’s the dining car?” She asks for the fifth time.  

A friendly guy who smells strongly of the last cigarette break points to the next car down. 

“Thank ya, honey,” she says as she lurches away.  

At the table behind us, a woman in a long trench coat and yellow flip flops mutters into her phone about laundry access. She takes the phone away from her ear and continues to talk, staring out the window. 

I look at Montana, placidly reading a book. He’s very good at ignoring the train people. 

our winter touring plans have been totally up in the air this year. Maybe I was too exhausted to think about anything after the Tour Divide, because I didn’t have much helpful input. Should we drive the Shark to Sedona? Sure. Take a train to Utah and tour the desert? Sure. Drive the Sidekick to California and car camp? Yeah. Ride across the country on the Southern Tier Route? Okay. Ride the Eastern Divide from home? Maybe. Ride the GAP and C&O to DC, then ride down the coast and then across the country? Whatever you want. 

Montana spent the fall making bikepacking bags on his old sewing machine and getting our bikes ready for touring. (I got gears!) I kept working away in the office at Wilderness Voyageurs, catching up on projects I’d neglected all summer.

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The weather went from glorious fall to cold early winter in the span of a couple days. Our cat started getting very floofy. I was nervously packing heavy mittens and wondering if I should wear my insulated winter shoes. 

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We had a nice family Thanksgiving, rode the Dirty Dozen, went to the last big Ohiopyle party-and-white-house-furniture-burning of the year. We were partied out and all set to go on a cold weather coastal tour. 

Then I got a wicked cold, and an arctic blast hit the east coast. Montana relented on his idea of riding out of Ohiopyle. We bought train tickets to South Carolina.  

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Our friend Josh generously agreed to drive us to Pittsburgh at 2 am. We boxed up bikes and took the Capitol Crescent from Pittsburgh to Washington DC, where we escaped the nutty train people and had a seven-hour layover. 

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We strolled around the city and saw all the monuments. Then we went to all the free museums and wrote letters to our senators about gun control. 

Not really. The Amtrak baggage people made us unpack stuff from our bike boxes to make them exactly 50 pounds. So our previously manageable carry-on bags were now heavy and shoulder-crushing. Not fun walk-around bags. So we drank a lot of coffee and went to REI to look for things we were missing. Then we went to Whole Foods and sat in the cafe for a few hours before hiking back to the train. At 7:30 we got onto the overnight Silver Meteor to Charleston. 

“Is this Charleston?” I heard a lady ask beside me.

”Kingstree, then Charleston.” The conductor said. 

“Colleen wake up!” Montana hissed, shaking my shoulder. I pulled up my sleep mask, uncrunched my shoulders from the uncomfortable position of the train seat. “Wake up, we have to go! Charleston!”

”What?” I looked out the window at the lonely rainy station where we were stopped. Nobody else was getting off. Montana was throwing bags around. 

“Miss Beans, we have to go!” He whisper-yelled. I came to my senses a bit. it was 3:30 in the morning. 

“No, this isn’t our stop.” 

He grabbed his phone frantically and opened google maps. Kingstree. I fell back asleep till Charleston, an hour later. 

At the station we built bikes till 6:00 ad rode out into the cold rainy gloom. It was like we’d never left home. We got more coffee, then rode to breakfast. 

“We’re servin lunch now too,” the waitress told us. Is it a southern thing to have lunch at 8:00 am?  

More sitting around, then we rode downtown and waited around till our hostel opened.  

Charleston is a neat old city. Until we rode out to the water and saw a sign about Fort Sumpter, I forgot that it was the place where the Civil War started. There are old houses, huge old mansions and stone fortifications everywhere. Also the Old Slave Mart Museum. Eek. .  

Luckily the weather here is so bad that we’re staying for a couple days. Plenty of time to sight-see and drink all the coffee.  

From Charleston, we’ll go north to the bikepacking alternate of the Palmetto Trail into northwestern South Carolina, then drop south to Athens, GA to see my brother for a few days , heading north again to the Trans North Georgia trail. Hopefully by then it’s stopped snowing up there. 

Then we’ll drop south through Alabama and meander west toward San Diego, trying to hit dirt roads as much as we can. It should be cool. 

People have asked me if I’m sad not to be going somewhere more exotic this winter, like New Zealand. But I’m not, really. We’ve never traveled in the south before. In a way, it’s even more unfamiliar than New Zealand was. I’m excited to see the south and the southwest, and to eat all the grits and tacos. You can’t get those in New Zealand.  Also I’m excited to be moving again. After the Divide, I felt stagnant and tired. But I think I’m finally rested enough to appreciate a good long bike tour.