Harry on his Bike

Days 39-42

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Day 39.   Thursday, October 12
     My average of over 86 miles a day during the 11 days of biking from
Albuquerque had exhausted me more than I expected. Had I been told
that I would have to bike this day I would have rebelled. I had warned
Jean and Ray that I would be good for nothing but lying around the house,
snacking, and catching up on my reports. Bless them, they complied
with my wishes.
     Beaumont has free AOL access, so I sent pictures to Barry for posting
on yahoo, and finished up the reports. As I always do, I then let them sit
in the computer for a day or so; I then do a last reading for content and
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     Jean has become interested in geneology in recent years, and showed
me some papers of my parents that she had discovered. Included was a
diary written by my mother for the period May through July of 1943. This
covered the last days of our four years in Argentina and the trip back to the
United States. In the middle of World War Two there was no non-military
ship travel, so we had to return by air. Flying in the 20-passenger Douglas
DC-3, it took us six days to make it from Buenos Aires to Panama, where
we were stuck for eight more days before getting priority to continue on to
Brownsville Texas.
     The account of the first day of the flight home revived some memories.
After a refueling stop at Mendoza (in western Argentina), the plane
climbed to slightly over 14,000 feet and went through the pass into
Chile. At this pass there is a huge statue, Christ of the Andes (formal
name: Cristo Redentor), made from melted-down cannons after some war
between Chile and Argentina. The plaque at the base says "May these
mountains crumble into dust before breaking the peace sworn to at the
feet of Christ the Redeemer". This statue is well-known throughout
Argentina, the kids are taught about it in school, and as a 12-year-old
I was anxious to see it.
     But I was airsick (as were many of the other passengers). The plane
cleared the pass by only a few hundred feet, and the statue was visible
to some of the passengers for only a few seconds. I was not one of them,
and for years a family joke was that while everyone else was admiring the
statue, I was looking at the inside of a paper sack.
     Soon after taking up bicycle touring in the mid-eightys, the idea came
to me that a good trip would be to bike to the statue. In 1989, after a six-
day test tour in Death Valley (to convince myself that I would still enjoy
biking after several continuous days) I flew to Santiago with my bike and
set off for Argentina. I was lucky to meet another cyclist, Millard, just
before beginning the big climb, and our three-day trip to Mendoza was
the best three days of biking I've ever had. On the first day we climbed
to a ski resort (El Portillo) and spent the night in a lodge. The next day
we went through the three-mile tunnel at the border, and on the Argentine
side climbed the dirt road up to the statue at 13,700 feet. My realization
that 46 years earlier I'd been within 500 feet of that spot (but now I got to
see the statue), made this the high point (literally and figuratively) of my
bicycling life. This high lasted throughout the third-day downhill into
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     The rest of this relaxing day was spent sleeping, visiting my mother,
and recharging of all batteries, both electronic and personal. And for
supper we had some delicious chicken and sausage gumbo. I'm getting
close to cajun country.

Day 40. Friday, October 13
     Nothing unlucky about this day. More work on the reports, more
resting, lots of family talk, and a visit with my mother.  I'd planned
to leave the next morning, but by four o'clock realized I still had too
much to do. Great. No biking tomorrow meant I could have a Black
Russian tonight.
     And then came supper. Ray cooked the steaks, and I ate the
largest and best filet mignon I've ever seen. And I had a salad with
cranberry-pecan dressing. And I had some ice cream. And I had some
more ice cream.

Day 41.   Saturday, October 14
     I was definitely going to leave on the morrow, so I started doing serious
packing. Most was done by mid-afternoon, so we had time for me to
express my gratitude for the hospitality I'd received by taking Jean and
Ray to dinner. I asked them to choose the place, subject to only one
condition: they had to serve catfish (my second favorite fish, beat only
by albacore).
     They chose Dorothy's Porch, a seafood restaurant some 10 miles
out of town, along a country road (paved, fortunately, since it was raining)
where there were no other businesses. But the place is well-known and
has a good reputation, for their parking lot was nearly full. The restaurant
is partly supported by pilings sunk into the bed of a two-acre lake, and
a balcony is about 15 feet above the water. Large numbers of fish (carp?)
and turtles congregated below the balcony, used to people tossing them
cracker crumbs. Although the sun had set, and it was raining, and beyond
the recommended range for a flash, I took a picture  and let the Agfa
software do what it could with the image. We then entered and had a
wonderful meal, starting with a great salad bar, followed by shrimp for
Jean and catfish for Ray and me, with dessert of ice cream and chocolate
sauce and more ice cream and more chocolate sauce. We couldn't
finish all the catfish so that solved the breakfast problem.

Day 42.   Sunday, October 15
     Jean fixed me a sandwich for breakfast: catfish and tomato slices
on whole wheat bread. I searched the house for any forgotten items,
found none, and left as soon as I could see the road. Jean, bless her,
caught up with me 3 miles down the street to hand me four rechargeable
batteries I'd overlooked.
     I joined Interstate 10 to cross the Neches River on the only bridge, and
then got on Highway 12, a lightly travelled road with a generous shoulder.
The rain from the previous day had moved on, and the weather was beau-
tiful. I even had a slight tailwind, so made the 54 miles to DeQuincy by
11:15. By then I was hungry and thirsty, so stopped at a small cafe and
had a huge hamburger and four glasses of iced tea.
     I continued biking past forests and fields.  My goal was Kinder,
about 45 more miles. If I could get a motel room there, I was sure I could
call the Grand Casino (about 8 miles north of Kinder) and they would
shuttle me out to their poker room for my periodic fix. But little Kinder
didn't have a motel. A sign said that Eunice, another 27 miles farther,
had lodging. So I pushed on, figuring that I would probably have to camp
that night.
     I still had a tailwind, and managed to get to Eunice a few minutes
before sunset. I got some frozen orange juice, and started looking for
that motel. All I found was one that had burned down a few years earlier.
So I'd have to camp, which presented three problems: 1) I was short on
water, so I'd have to find a supply before finding a campsite, 2) as always,
I wanted to call Mary, so I'd have to find a phone, and 3) I'd have to find a
place to camp. Of these three, the last would be the easiest solved, 
but water and a phone were nowhere to be found as I biked eastward from
Eunice. I'd about reached the point where I'd have to camp with little
water and let Mary worry when I came to an RV park. I knew they'd have
water and a phone, so I pulled in, filled my bottles, and called Mary
(another very short conversation). I then asked a camper where the
owner of the park was. I was directed to a house, and asked the man
who answered the door how much he charged a biker to pitch a tent.
Lo! It was only $5, I could pitch it wherever I wanted (some RV parks
make you put your tent on dirt, reserving the grass for the lawns), and
they had free showers. At that bargain rate (I expected him to say
at least $12) all my problems were solved.
     As I sipped my orange juice, I pitched my tent on soft grass, right
next to a covered table.  I had a hot shower (but didn't wash my
clothes). I ate a few crackers and peanut butter. I inflated my air
mattress, lay on top of my sleeping bag (the temperature was about
75 degrees), got out my radio, and tuned to a good country-western
station. I'd biked over 122 miles, felt fine, and life was good.
     Well, good, but not perfect. As I listened to the music, it slowly
soaked in that the ground was pushing against me through my air
mattress. Maybe I didn't blow it up enough, so I gave it a few more
puffs. Twenty minutes later there was that persistent ground again.
I had a leak.
     One of the last things I'd thrown into my tool kit was two small
squeeze-bottles, containing five-minute epoxy and hardener. By careful
listening (and with the help of a flashlight) I found the leak. Leaning out
the tent I got the epoxy from my bike. I mixed a drop of epoxy with a
drop of hardener, and with a toothpick I smeared the mixture over the
leak. Ten minutes later I inflated the mattress and it held air. Life was
now not just good, but perfect.

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