The trip was an amazing experience. Every part of the country we biked through was beautiful; some places you had to search a little more, but we were never left unrewarded. The mountains were difficult right off the bat, but the downhills were thrilling. The deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas were dry and desolate, but offered a unique, almost other-worldly landscape of cacti of all shapes and sizes with some like the prickly pear with the irony of the most beautiful blooming flowers among the harsh thorns.
The Texas hill country began to give us our first glimpses of green grass, full grown leafy trees and the most gorgeous wildflowers. We finally began to see creeks and rivers that actually contained water in Louisiana and Mississippi where they were spared the horrible unending drought that Texas has endured. We had the most wonderful conversations with local residents every time we pulled up on our tandem at any gas station across the south. The beauty of Dauphin Island, AL, was a welcome day off and entering the lush and humid west Florida we felt as if we were being let in on a secret and serene landscape that visitors to larger cities like Orlando and Daytona Beach never get to see.
Hitting the limits of the historic St Augustine and making it to the Holy Grail of St Augustine Beach is hard to put into words, but we all rode to the beach together as a group just as we had started off from San Diego’s Dog Beach 52 days earlier and in much more favorable weather conditions. We all took our bikes into the tide and lifted them up to the sky in triumph among laughs and tears and hugs and champagne.
Along the way, we met so many good people. Some areas had been hit hard by the economy, either recent or decades ago, harsh weather or even progress that made highways that passed by their towns or towns that were unfortunate enough to be caught up in the immigration debate merely because of their location and are fighting small “wars” daily that most of us never hear about. The trip solidified my belief that most people are good. Some towns that had very little to offer gave us their goodwill and we took it appreciatively. We listened to stories of history and legends. We talked to US Border Patrol agents who seem to be trying to plug a flood with a Band-Aid, yet are upbeat and professional and respectful. We heard and tasted the local flavor of Cajun country in Louisiana.
There was Ms Pritchard from Greensville, FL, who came to talk to us about growing up black in the south during segregation, as well as some inside stories of her childhood friend, “RC,” better known as Ray Charles. Ms Pritchard went to college after raising 5 children and completed her Master’s degree against all odds. She taught school and retired at age 72, served as mayor of her city for several years and is still involved in civic organizations. She was instrumental in getting a lovely memorial statue commissioned in Greenville of Ray Charles.
It was our honor to meet her!
There were times my resolve was tested in the most unexpected ways; though it is my belief that times of adversity always end up teaching you something important. There was the day we began our ride in 34-degree weather and even with 2 pairs of gloves and wind pants and shoe covers on, my hands and feet were so cold, I pedaled with tears of pain and frustration rolling down my cheeks. It made me sympathize more with people who have no choice but to live on the streets and how they must endure the extremes of cold and heat and here I was with a choice about it and it helped me deal with it more constructively.
There were also the many dogs we saw. I do not want to indict an entire area of the country, but there seemed to be an overabundance of loose dogs in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. I saw way too many female dogs who showed the telltale underbelly of having recently given birth and with the number of dogs running at large, it made me wish there was a better campaign to educate owners and make it easier for them to get dogs spayed and neutered. There was the inevitable outcome of this problem made sickeningly clear when we rode up on a young dog panting on the center line of a country road in Mamou, Louisiana, and then we saw why; he was lying vigil close by a fallen companion who was obviously deceased. As I said, it was the saddest sight I ever hope to have to witness. After trying in vane to locate and call a local humane society or animal control, I again rode away with tears in my eyes. I wish people had a better appreciation for how important animals are and maybe they would treat them with more respect and humanity.
There was the yellow lab pup that almost went unnoticed as I went behind a store to get a better look at a horse and colt standing near a fence. The pup was sleeping under an RV that had obviously been parked for the winter. No home or owner were anywhere in sight. The pup came out happily when she saw me and was stopped by the end of her 4 foot rope tether. The rope was not tight and she did wear a collar that also fit her comfortably. I was able to spend a little time with her and return her affection before I had to leave but I still think about her and hope someone just tied her there temporarily and that she has someone who loves her. She was a good and healthy weight, had a good coat and clear eyes and obviously was used to people, so those were good signs that someone, though not taking care of her the way I would do it, was caring for her.
Riding this bike journey was supposed to raise needed funds for Custom Canines and specifically to raise enough funds to get all the puppies trained and placed for the children currently on the waiting list for an autism service dog so that they would not have to wait any longer than was reasonably necessary. Any of us who have done this training have seen the amazing symbiotic relationship between dogs and children and how much good can come from this.
I believe things happen for a reason and there was a reason we were compelled to take this journey.
We disappointingly did not meet our goal of raising $30,000 for Custom Canines,but we did spread their message to a whole new group of good folks and maybe some generous corporate sponsor will be compelled to help this worthy organization. Our hearts were always warmed to see fellow riders with the Pedal 4 Paws jersey on or the staff wearing their P4P t-shirts that Bubba made sure they all had, and we have wonderful photos of family sporting these same t-shirts, and we are still taking orders.
Not sure where the journey will take us, but we have some wonderful memories, learned a lot about ourselves and hope we did some good for Custom Canines. We will be blogging about our new puppy when we get him/her. We hope to see y’all down the road!