White Sands National Monument, White, Windy and Warm

Today was kind of a laid back day. We’re both resting our wrists and hands from a beating they took last Sunday and both of our bikes are desperately in need of new chains and sprockets. They’re scheduled for next week to have them put on, and in the meantime, we get to just hang out in this beautiful region via foot.

It was super windy at White Sands National Monument, and the sky was white with sand in some places from where the dunes were filling the atmosphere, making the neaby mountains look like ghosts. We hiked around a bit but turned back after our eyes started filling with more sand than we were prepared for. Next time, goggles.

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Nerds Off Road: Group Ride in Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico

Our dramatic 3 day escape from tornado valley brought us here, to New Mexico, and the best day of riding yet.

We’ve had an account on instagram for years, but recently started posting about our rides and bikes in the last 6 months or so. Somehow, through a tag or otherwise, we found a rider out of El Paso, Texas – Tim, who is always posting great pics of his rides, his crashes and his overall progress riding similar bikes to our own. When he found out we were in the area, just 80 miles north in Alamogordo, he invited us to meet up with him and some of his riding group in Cloudcroft, NM, about 20 minutes from our RV park. The ride would be an all day ride on single track and old logging roads in Lincoln National Forest. The ground would regularly be loose rock littered with logs and branches, things we didn’t have much experience with, but were more than willing to try. We’ve ridden sandy roads, packed gravel, muddy trails and of course street, but never loose rocks (large or small) nor have we had to ride over so many logs and branches.

We must have underestimated our skills because we both kept up great, only passing up a couple steeper rocky hills that we probably could have done if we tried. Almost everyone fell at least once, some of us on the same hill climb trying to get around a fallen tree, and by the last half my legs and arms were starting to weaken from standing and fighting the handlebars against the rocks. We rode about 6-7 hours total, stopping for a couple breaks to take in views and for lunch. A New Mexico resident, and our guide, Martin, seemed to know the way to every part of the park, nearly every trail, how they connected, which trails were more advanced and which were more our skill level. Hopefully this ride will be the first of many and we’ll just continue to get faster and braver each time.

Next week, we both get new sprockets and gears for our bikes, giving us time to recover and our bikes ready for our next big ride*!

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Prep time before the ride

*cheese factor 11!

Memphis, Puppies, Elvis and Delicious Food

We stayed in Southaven, Mississippi, just a few miles south of Graceland. Southaven wasn’t much to speak of, suburban sprawl and every chain business you could possibly need. Everything was fairly new, including most the roads, some of which led to housing developments that didn’t yet exist, but luckily we were just a short drive from Holly Springs National Forest, Wall doxie State Park and downtown Memphis.

National Civil Rights Museum

We spent our first weekend seeing the city. We walked around Beale Street a bit before going to the Civil Rights Museum for a few hours. The Museum was really busy and we were in line, before and after we got our tickets, for quite a while. We had apparently picked the 47th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King to come to his place of death, the Hotel Loraine, which the museum is built off of. Despite the crowds we were able to see most of the displays in good time. I could have stayed there another 3 hours, soaking it all in. The quality of the displays and the vast array of personal accounts and information make any one visit incomplete, but it will affect your perspective on our country’s history nevertheless. Of all the displays, one thing that wasn’t part of the museum impacted me greatly, there were 2 old couples who had lived in the area all their lives reminiscning to one another..”do you remember when that happened? I remember” about incidents like lynchings and the burning bus of the freedom riders. The fact that these things have even happened in the lifetime of people who are sill alive proves how recent it all is, and how far we really have to go. It was an awesome and moving experience.

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Beale Street

We didn’t spend any evenings in downtown Memphis, aside from our first night in town when we found only one place open on a Sunday night with a veggie burger, The Crazy Kanuk. We can now say we’ve been to a Canadian themed restauraunt, something I never imagined would exist. The burger was excellent, the waitress was nice, the room with animal heads staring at us, less nice, but overall it was good.
We walked up and down Beale Street, visiting the Withers Collection Museum where we saw dozens of photos taken by a freelance photojournalist covering key events in the civil rights movement. Walked into one gift shop, but mostly just took it all in from outside. It reminded us a bit of a smaller, calmer, Bourbon Street in New Orleans, though who knows how crazy it gets on the weekend nights. There were street performers, cops patroling and people getting drunk, and this was just on a Saturday Afternoon in about 2 blocks that were closed off to cars.

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Wall Doxie State Park, Mississippi

The next Saturday we decided to just stick with nature. We headed towards Holly Springs National Forest, not knowing much about it and finding it mostly occupied by houses when we arrived. We instead opted for Wall Doxie State Park which had a nice hike around a small lake. The hike was pretty easy but the forest was beautiful and there were the old familiar Cypress (swamp dwelling trees we’d come to love in the deep south) all around the lake. The only downside was finding a tick on my arm near the end of the hike, and later, one on my leg, another on Sherlock, and one more on Ross. We didn’t hike again…it’s going to be a ticky year in the South.
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Holly Springs National Forest

After hiking at Wall Doxie, we decided to just drive through the national forest and see what’s there. We mostly came across houses, and even an cool old cemetery, which creepily enough, had a fresh grave in it. We decided to head back after not long, as we weren’t finding much, and take a shortcut down a dirt road back to the freeway. We started to see less houses and more hunters and fast driving teenagers disting up the road and appearing from around corners going 45, typical things you see on dirt roads in forests all around the US really. But then, something atypical, a couple of 12 week old puppies on the side of the road. We immediately pull over and look around for a driveway. There’s a road across the way so we put the pups in the back with Sherlock, who was not ammused, and drive down the road. It goes on for a ways before we see a driveway, which the house is another 1/4 mile down that. We start to realise there’s just no way these really young puppies ran off and just happened to be huddled together next to the road in the middle of nowhere. Someone had dumped them there. Both pups were ultra soft, floppy and uncoordinated, not old enough to run miles from home. They were hungry, skinny, flea covered, tick riddled and scared. We called the local animal shelter and every organization we could find online before we left the area but no one was open. We decided to take them home and sort it out on Monday.

 

The first thing we did when we got them home was give them flea medicine, then got to work on turning the back room/garage into a puppy safe area. We went to the store and bought puppy pads, food, worming medicine and treats. I haven’t had a puppy around for a very long time, and I had a yard, so I wasn’t totally aware what I was up against. Ross left for Seattle the next day and and I was on my own trying to find a place to take them. The mess they made was shocking to say the least. As they got more healthy, the mess got less terrifying, but it was a lot to handle with 3 pets of our own who were starting to feel neglected. First thing Monday I drove over to the local shelter, a no-kill shelter just a couple blocks away rom the RV park. Much to my confusion, they told me they couldn’t take them for several reasons, the main reason being I wasn’t local. They basically told me we should have called the police (really?!) and lef them there.. um, no. Then one of the women was rude enough to say “don’t dump them anywhere, we know where you’re staying” and was surprised when I was deeply insulted. “ahem, the people who pick up puppies off the side of the road are not typically the ones who dump them”…she was an ass and they weren’t the slightest bit helpful. I called a few more places for the second time, hearing back only from a couple emails saying they were full.

After a day or so, I already had some good photos so I decided that craigslist might have to be the place, as much as I didn’t like the idea. I posted that they could only go to a home that I could inspect, as creepy as it sounded for me to want to look at their home, I needed to know where they were going and the kind of people who would have them.
After hours with no calls at all about them, I’m at the feed store buying hookworm medicine and considering booster shots (the vet quoted me as needing to spend $120 each to get them their shots – not including spay) when I learn that the feed store shots are not recognized by vets, so, they’re pointless really. I walk back to the truck, worrying that we may have to fork over hundreds on these puppies, and potentially be stuck with them for a long while in a very small space (not the worst thing ever but not what we intended when we picked them up), when I get a call. It’s a woman in Tennessee who recently lost a pregnant dog and her one puppy due to compliations. Their remaining dog was getting really depressed and lonely so her and her husband wanted both pups and were happy to take them to the vet and get them sorted out. We arranged for me to show up at their house after she got off work, so I went home and prepared them for their new home!

When I arrived I knew it was a good place for them. A quiet suburban neighbourhood and a big house with a huge back yard. They had a teenage daughter who was happy to play with them and take them for walks, and they had a big brother, a pug mix. They were pretty terrified after having just got to know me and having a rough time before that. It took them a few days before they’d stop lunging away when I tried to pet them, made loud noises or moved too quickly. They were really sweet though when they weren’t afraid. The bigger one, with the white on her nose got especialyl attached to me. She’d follow me anywhere, and her sister would follow her, so walks went well. At the new owner’s home, she kept trying to hide behind me and get me to save her, despite her much braver sister already playing in the back yard. It was hard to leave her. My mom had pointed out that she looked a bit like my last dog of 13 years who passed away in 2012. That didn’t make leaving her any easier, but I knew they’d be happier with a home. They are both bound to be enormous dogs by the size of their feet and they needed an enormous yard.

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Graceland

We were planning to skip Graceland after seeing some of the package prices but when Ross’s boss found out and insisted that we go, we didn’t really have any good excuses not te. We did the mansion tour, which turned out to be quite a bit cheaper than the packages, we didn’t need to see his jets, we were pretty surprised overall to find out what a humble and seemingly down to earth guy Elvis remained throughout his life. His “mansion” wasn’t even all that big and his property was pretty small, especially if you’ve seen places like Hearst Castle or Biltmore Estate. He actually donated a lot of his money and kept things pretty real. Although I never cared for his music, it was interesting to find our more about him. His collection of awards and gold and platinum records that took up nearly two buildings were a shock though. I mean, he died before I was born but I never knew he was really that famous. He even lived on a road named after himself and was basically treated as a living legend. Even his wife is quoted as saying after his death “how ever will the world go on without Elvis Priestly”. His interior design taste and fashion sense are pretty intersting as well.

Shelby Farms

Shelby Farms is a huge recreation area on the east side of Memphis that took us about 40 minutes to drive to every time we went, through terrible traffic, but was so worth it. They have 4500 acres of trails and open space and 100 of those acres is Shelby Farms dog park! That is possibly the biggest dog park in the country (my claim, not fact), and it features several large ponds, some with docks your dog can jump off, obstacles and miles of trails. Sherlock enjoyed running through the tall grassy fields, meeting dogs 20 times her size and drinking questionable pond water.
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Imagine Vegan Cafe

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Vegan Quiche

This might be our new favorite vegan restaurant in the South. They have the most amazing menu, including things like “fried chick’n and waffles”, a southern dish we never thought we’d see made vegan. Their deserts are amazing too and we went back time and time again til we left, we still joke “hey, let’s go to imagine cafe!” then we pout a little because we’re like 1000 miles away now. Sad times when you have to leave good food behind.

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Pumpkin Spice Moon Pie
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Southaven RV Park, Missippi

The RV Park was pretty nice, though the pool wasn’t open and we continuoulsly had storm warnings of the “tornadic” nature coming our way. The spots were rather short, although brand new, so I’m not sure what the excuse was there. We couldn’t even fit the truck in the space and had to park it nearby. All our neighbours were really friendly though, and one couple brought me dinner while Ross was out of town. Of course it had meat in it so I couldn’t eat it, but we had a good conversation anyway and I thanked them for thinking of me. The RV park had ok internet, a pretty huge dog park and the people in the office were friendly.

Overall we had a good stay in the Memphis area but the constant borage of bad weather overhead and neaby just became too stressful. Even a bout of large hail could destroy our trailer, let alone a tornado, we had to pack our backpack and parepare the animals twice for potential tornado warnings. Two times too many and more storms on the way. We made our run to New Mexico with a few days to spare on our month long rent.

Oxford, Alabama and the Kentuck ORV Trail

The weather was still pretty cold and wet when we arrived in Oxford, Alabama mid March. Our RV park was pretty close to a freeway but also pretty close to some national forest, which is what we prefer when looking for a spot (since we can rarely stay in the forests themselves). Other than some random map searches for off road trails, we didn’t have a lot of other reasons to be in the area.

Luckily, on Sunday of our only weekend there, it was finally dry enough to get out and ride. We researched the area for something nearby and found the Kentuck ORV Trail within riding distance of the RV park (ORV = Off Road Vehicle). We rode there not really knowing what to expect or what the difficulty would be. The only trail I’d been on (kat), I was on my vintage bike and horribly underprepared for both the difficulty and in the fact that my bike was too old and heavy for something that technical – also, I had no padding, only a helmet. Despite the general situation, I actually broke my leg just trying to get my bike turned around when I met up with a giant log in the path of the trail.. Nevertheless, ever since I’ve been wary. At least this time I wasn’t alone on the trail, we had much more experience since 2012, and we had all the padding we could possibly want – minus riding pants as I’ll mention later.

On the way to the trail we found an old logging road and drove down that a bit. The ground was pretty loose and wet from previous rains and a puddle looked like fun . We both rode through and made a fun little splash, causing Ross to suggest that we should get a pic of my riding through it. I go up the hill in preparation to come back down for the photo, this time chosing a different part of the puddle, much to my dismay, it was a really deep part and I was simultaneously shocked and soaked while Ross took a pic – before the worst of it.. but you can get the idea. It was warm enough to just stay that way but I was pretty much soaked for the rest of the ride.

me_splasySoon after the puddle incident, we found a dead end, so we turned around and kept looking for the ORV trail. We came to a part of the trail that crossed the forest service road, but not the beginning. It seems like as good a place as any to start so we headed north into the forest. The trail started out on fairly even ground, some ups and downs, some tree roots and lots of little “jumps” with giant puddles on the other side. This made for lots more splashing and soon enough my feet were getting soaked even more with every puddle. Then… the trail started to descend, and quickly. Our tires are really knobby, great for mud and loose ground, but having a lot of experience riding in that going down a steep hill is another thing. We got to an especially steep part that I barely wanted to go down, but at that point had no choice. It started to remind me of the trail I was on when I broke my leg. I never fell on that trail and luckily it wasn’t wet, but the feeling of “no turning back” hit me on a “lets avoid pain” level. This is actually terrible because once you’re riding with thoughts like that in your head, you’re pretty much doomed to something going wrong. I went down first and about half way down, my brakes skidded and tires slid sideways in the mud. Nothing hurt since the ground was so soft and I was going about a mile an hour but unpleasant anyway. I still can’t really get the bike off myself by myself very well (some major working out needed) so Ross came down the hill as well, found a precarious place to park his bike and helped get the bike off my leg.

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At this point we’re noticing that the trail just keeps going down the mountain, and we don’t know where it goes from there. Are we going to have to try to climb up meters of muddy, steep grit to get back to the top or will it loop back around via a less steep way? When I broke my leg/ankle by rolling it on a rock, I could still walk. I thought it was only sprained. My old bike (a 79 Yamaha) had a really picky first gear that required a lot of revs to get moving, which was really hard while pointing up hill on a narrow steep trail with jack-knife turns. I was shaken from my injury, and confidence pretty much crushed, so we were having to push the 350lb bike up the trail, a few feet at a time. After about the 3rd of 4th turn and a lot of sweat, it almost seemed flat enough for me to give it a shot. I finally got the bike going and escaped the mountanous pit.. a pit much like the one we were headed for, but less wet.

We decided to tediously turn the bikes around and power back up the hill. On the way back my tire slid at least one more time, and while avoiding a rut in the trail, my back tire slipped in (lesson learned, don’t avoid ruts?). Once you’re in the mindset to stumble, you do (I do?).  On the second tip over, all of which were like falling in marshmallos due to the softness of the ground, some of the hillside had come with me, exposing dozens of red centipedes, which luckil don’t mind. I put my outside leg down on the engine for .05 seconds and learn quickly what the disadvantages of wearing wet jeans on a ride are. My leg got a nice steaming, no warning like there would have been if my pants were dry, and I ended up with a week long blister on my leg. Basically, we went out and bought pants with heat protection the next day – now I just need knee pads before I learn the hard way about knees. Getting riding protection has been a one step at a time endevour, sometimes it took sprained ankles, stubbed toes and burnt legs for us to go spend the money, but we’ve basically learned that you need it all if you’re riding off road, no skimping.

This was just one of many trails in the area we could have done but we were happy with our mostly successful experience and short time in the area. It took us a while to realize that in off road riding , falling is pretty much a given (hense all the mandatory padding that exists) and that if you don’t fall, you’ll never learn. It’s been useful looking at videos and pics of other riders, with more experience, falling on their butts. However it can be really easy to get hung up on avoiding physical pain, even though your skills inprove and you’re less likely to get hurt, you’re your own worst enemy.

Muddy at the end
Muddy at the end

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