We were riding along the Gulf outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. There day was windy and gray, almost cold enough to snow. Again, I was wearing all my clothes. We rode on the sidewalk by a busy highway, grinding against the wind at a glacial 8 miles per hour.
We took shelter at a beach-side bathroom, looked at the route. Still 37 miles till we could stop. We'd be riding into the dark today. I Googled what was in the next town. The cheapest motel yet, a Mexican restaurant and another Waffle House. Yippee.
After riding through all of Alabama, we were excited for Florida. It was the furthest south we could possibly go. Beaches! Sunshine! A change of scenery!
We had a nice visit in Santa Rosa Beach with some friends we'd made guiding a bike tour last summer. It was still pretty cold.
Then Montana got the flu, and we straggled along the coast, making about 30 miles a day. We stopped again in Pensacola, where I started getting the fever shakes. Luckily Pensacola has a Warmshowers superhost, Jeb.
Jeb runs the youth programs at a big Methodist church downtown. After his ride on the Trans America route, Jeb convinced the church to host passing cyclists on the Southern Tier in the youth activity center. Since he started hosting in 2014, they've had over 300 cyclists pass through. It's a big building with showers, a kitchen and a bunch of comfy couches. Really the perfect place to wait out the flu. Jeb graciously let us sprawl out on the couches there until my fever went down and I could breathe without hacking.
After three days in Pensacola, we rode out into a warm mist to take on the rest of the Gulf. For the first time, we even got stripped down to short sleeves for the first time in a month.
In Mississippi the roads to a turn for the (even) worse. Heavy chip seal, no shoulder and aggressive drivers. And another unseasonable cold front was coming. In northern Florida everything was freezing over.
After a rainy day, we took the opportunity to stay with Freda, one of Mississippi's few Warmshowers hosts. She told us about Hurricane Katrina and all the places to gamble along the Gulf. Before we left, she fixed us breakfast and told us everywhere to visit in New Orleans.
From Freda's house, we had two days to get to the hostel in New Orleans that I'd booked on the ferry across the Gulf. On a nice day with a tail wind, riding 120 miles in two days seemed perfectly fine. But now not so much.
At the Waffle House in Biloxi, we stared into our eggs.
"Hey," Montana said, "a flight to Las Vegas is only $80."
"Really? Let's go. I'm over this."
But first we had to get to New Orleans. I'd already paid for two nights there. Oops.
Finally the weather cleared as we crossed into Louisiana.
Spinning through chaparral and dead trees along the Gulf was getting old. I had high hopes for the city. It would be nice to spend a few nights inside and have a nice bottle of wine.
Two days in NOLA were good. We walked almost the whole city, had cocktails on the sidewalk, ate some good food and also some very overpriced mediocre food.
We got a chance to think through what we were doing out here. No way around it, riding the Southern Tier in the coldest southern winter ever wasn't very fun. It wasn't even type-B fun, like riding the Tour Divide, where you're rewarded for days of grimy trudging with epic mountain views and great wild camping. This trip was just crappy pavement, cold rain and chain restaurants.
Vegas, on the other hand, was warm, dry and full of old trucks without any rust. We could go there, buy a truck and go mountain biking for the rest of the winter.
Maybe the Southern Tier would be better in the spring, on touring bikes with skinny tires. But for now we were done.
On our last day in NOLA, we booked our tickets to Vegas, begged a couple boxes from the bike shop and rode to the airport.
In the airport entry-way, we started packing up the bikes. An employee stopped to stare.
"You taking those with you?" He asked. "Never seen that before."
We spent the night in the airport, sleeping in the entrance with a few bums to keep us company because it was too early to check in for our 5 am flight. It was our wildest campsite in forever.
I felt a little guilty about giving up on the cross-country tour, but more than that I felt relieved. I was done with riding in the cold and eating at the Waffle House. There are better ways to spend the winter.