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Bicycle Field Notes 4: La Buena Vida

posted in: Bicycle Touring

Here’s a sneak peek (48 hours or so) into our lives and my mind as we roll through part of southern Texas.

Date: 26 February 2016
Ride: From Goose Island State Park to Corpus Christi, Texas
Distance: 68 km
Weather: Gloriously sunny and warm (mid teens to mid 20s Celsius) with a moderate headwind.


A video game bird woke me up this morning. Over the last several weeks, sometimes a Northern Mockingbird gets to announce the day. At least, I’m pretty sure they’re Northern Mockingbirds that produce the splendid diversity of calls, including rapid tat-a-tat-tat and pshew-pshew-pshew starship sounds that remind me of video games of yore. But sometimes when a bunch of other sounds get thrown in I wonder, like this morning. One thing I do know for sure this morning is that neither Lothar nor I know much about how our day might unfold. We do have a place to stay tonight. A Warm Showers host is expecting us in Corpus Christi this evening. But often we don’t even know this much.


Good morning sun!


We’re gathering to make coffee when a woman on an aqua blue town bike approaches.

Judy is wondering how we’re planning to get over the bridge, the one that we saw at the end of the day yesterday and that I was grateful to not be launching onto then. We turned left for Goose Island State Park instead. “Good question,” one or both of us says. Then Judy tells us that the bridge is impassable for bikes. She even called the sheriff’s department to find a way of negotiating her way to the other side because there’s an enticing network of bike trails over there. No go. She’s heading across it this morning and offers us a ride. Wonderful! We’ll take it. She brews us a pot of coffee and we pack up.

When Judy retired, she sold her house. She bought a grand RV, one that turned out to be too much of a hassle to get around in. Also driving got scary when wind blew it around like a sail. She downsized once and then she downsized again. Like Goldilocks, the one she has now is just right.

At first Judy’s children were worried about her. That was 12 years ago. Now she has people telling her that they envy her gypsy lifestyle. “Why would you want to be in a house when you can be outside enjoying the stars,” she wonders. Some of her grandchildren are coming to visit her this weekend. She’s excited about re-connecting them with nature.

Judy’s even has ideas about how I can get answers for my bird questions. Her neighbour next door will know. Linda volunteers as a guide for bird walks in the park, an infamous birding destination. In a few minutes, I gain a wealth of knowledge and reliable information about local birds that I can follow-up and expand on. Mockingbirds have a remarkable diversity of calls, apparently they can make 130 different sounds, and they mimic Northern Cardinals, which is what was confusing me. Both birds are early risers.


At our campsite, Judy points out the piles of soil on the lawn made by leaf-cutting ants, which I mistakenly thought were made by an invasive and socially and economically troubling, at least for some people, species of fire ant.


She tells us that the leaf cutter’s natural predator is the horned toad. With some follow up, I learned that the Texas horned toad, a misnamed lizard, is Texas’ official state reptile, a threatened species like many official state animals. At least one official state animal, the California grizzly bear, if not more, is extirpated (it no longer exists in the state).


Judy took us to see Whooping Cranes, where I also got to see Roseate Spoonbills, and then to see the oldest known Live Oak in America. I took a minute to imagine what it might have been like in this area when this magnificent and revered tree was a seedling, a time when aboriginal Americans were the only people living on the land. I later learned that 1000 A.D. is also thought to be around the time when vikings discovered North America. Apparently, scientists and others are busy trying to figure out how to save this tree, as it appears to be in poor health or dying.


Now I have more ideas for topics to look into and follow up on.


We pile our bikes into the back of Judy’s camper van. Photo credit: Judy Cummings.


And she drives us across the bridge.


We stop at a Mexican Restaurant for breakfast and a visit. Photo Credit: unidentified customer (thanks!).


Judy is a retired international projects manager for a multinational petroleum company. Her training was in math and computers. Now, based on my observations, she’s well on her way to becoming an accomplished self-taught naturalist. She’s keen to get into long distance bicycle touring too.

We fall into stimulating discussion about some of the social, ecological, economic, and political problems that humanity faces on this planet. We talk about the types of problems that Lothar and I have been reflecting on and talking about with others as we travel through Canada and the U.S.A.: unhealthy life styles, wasteful and over consumption of natural resources, failures to adapt to and mitigate climate change, people’s disconnection from nature and so on.

Judy, like me, is concerned about the cultural stressors that many people, in particular in younger generations, live with that were less prevalent or unheard of when older generations were young.

“These are the kinds of problems we talk about around the fire at night but we don’t know where to start [to solve them],” she said. To which I respond, “yes you do. You’re doing it right now. You’re living with intent and setting an example for those around you.”


Judy, you are an inspiration to me. Lothar, you are too.


By coincidence, yesterday before we met Judy, it occurred to me that there are lessons and strengths that I’m gaining through our bike journey that I can draw on in figuring out how to constructively move forward in life and career.


Some of the benefits of long distance bike touring that I value most are space to observe and time to reflect.


On this journey, we’ve had countless conversations with people, old and young and from many walks of life, who are worried about complex problems that affect people in their community, region, and country and globally.


As Lothar and I ride, we’re reading the histories and encountering the evidence of major environmental, social, and economic upsets that have occurred in North America since Europeans arrived.

From an ecologist’s perspective, I’ve been focusing on learning more about interests, challenges and unintended consequences associated with development including climate change-related issues, decline and loss of native species at risk, invasion of non-native species from other areas, and degradation and loss of ecosystems, and responses, with varying levels of success, such as reintroducing species and restoring ecosystems. Riding down the east coast of America, through some of the most densely populated regions of North America, underscored many environmental problems that compromise peoples’ wellbeing.


An ecologists' view of the world: I've been looking for remnants of tall grass prairie, an ecosystem that has been lost to agriculture and other developments over large areas of it's former range.
One ecologist’s view of the world: I’ve been looking for remnants of tall grass prairie, an ecosystem that has been lost to agriculture and other developments over large areas of it’s former range.


Seeing road killed skunks with different colour patterns and wondering about what mustelid species (members of the weasel family) motivated me to do an Internet search to
Seeing road killed skunks with different colour patterns in Texas motivated me to do an Internet search to learn more. To my surprise, there are not two species, like I thought, but four species of skunk in the parts of Texas we rode through. Now, I wish I’d looked into this earlier, particularly given how many dead skunks I’ve seen. This one is a striped-skunk (Mephitis mephitis).


I’m most concerned about the divisiveness and polarization among various groups of people that I see in the media and catch glimpses of as we travel. Travelling through the USA during the Presidential Nominee Primaries puts a spotlight on this point. I’m concerned because humanity faces complex problems—many with far reaching effects—that are in need of viable and acceptable alternative solutions. There are no easy answers for some of these problems. I fear that in conflict everyone stands to lose with respect to common interests. I hope that through cooperation and collaboration people can learn from the past and find ways of moving forward to live more sustainably on this planet.


But I don’t know where to start. How can I contribute to solving some of these problems?


I think I’ve stumbled on part of an answer that holds promise for me. It has a lot to do with how this journey is unfolding and crossing paths with Judy has reinforced my thinking, which is bound to evolve.

I asked Judy to get the Pawn shop sign in this photo. I’ve been learning a lot about how the signs and symbols we see as we ride through an area say a lot about the people that live there: their aspirations, the social problems they face, and what others think of them or want them to do or be. Photo Credit: Judy Cummings.
Lothar and I were both captivated by our new friend Judy and her enviable lifestyle. She’s got her priorities right for herself. Photo Credit: Judy Cummings.


Originally, Lothar and I were planning to cross Canada to see if we like bike touring. If we did, then we were going to do another trip, a Pan-American tour to Ushuaia, Argentina. But somewhere along the way Lothar got it into his head that he needed to fulfill this dream, as soon as possible. He needed to go, with or without me. I realize now that his decision to turn right on the eastern side of Canada, if we liked bike touring, was because he wanted to do it while he’s still able and to avoid a motorized trip back home, reducing overall consumption of fossil fuels. The latter consideration, we’ve been factoring into our decision making for several years now, although we’re not always as successful as we could be.

I needed to work hard to catch up with Lothar’s change in plan. The thought of riding my bike across North America, let alone over two continents, with only six months notice was overwhelming, so much so that the only way I could cope was by scrambling to get out the door and totally letting go of all of the details of how we are going to get there.


Now we have a common goal: to make our way to Ushuaia, Argentina.

We have a couple or few objectives that we need or want to achieve, like avoid winter conditions we can’t ride in. I want to get ‘there’ as efficiently as possible because even though I feel so fortunate to be on this journey, I have no desire to be away from home for a long time. There’s so much I want to do, like dive further into science communications and, as yet to be determined aspects of problem solving, building and expanding on my ecological expertise, alongside others in our community.

We’ve met people that have crossed the U.S.A. with most of the details for their entire trip planned. As it turns out, I don’t think it makes sense for us, from logistic and opportunity perspectives, to travel on this journey knowing all or even a good chunk of the details. We have been reduced to and become comfortable with making decisions about where we’re going to pedal on a daily basis, on most days. The only consistent criterion is that we’re generally trending in the right direction, initially to the east coast of Canada and now the southern tip of South America.

I’m learning that the greatest ideas and best information comes from people with local knowledge—people that are closely connected to the place they’re recommending we visit or suggesting to avoid.

They’ve been there, and they usually know what they’re talking about. Knowledge is relevant; information is reliable, much more often than not. We can fill in any pressing blanks by searching for the most reliable information we can find on the Internet.

We might not reach our goal. On our worst days, Lothar has said as much out loud, twice, (mostly for my sake, I think) and I’ve thought it a few times (but I don’t dare say it), but we set out to ride again and every time we do, we’re glad we did. We’re getting there, one pedal stroke at a time. We might fall short of our goal but I think that the rewards of this trip, the people we meet, the lessons we learn, the experiences we have, are worth the costs and potential costs. If we keep pedaling, trending in the direction of our goal, on most days, I think there’s a good chance we’ll get there.

But we definitely won’t get there if we don’t we try.


In a similar sense, I don’t think humanity can effectively plan out a route to address challenging problems, such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and depletion of natural resources, that are unfolding globally.

Yesterday, I realized that I could approach both of these challenges in a similar fashion. Talking to Judy reinforced this notion. If I want to contribute to better resolving challenging problems that need locally, regionally, and globally interconnected solutions, then I can start by embracing a life style and well-informed actions that move me, one step at a time, towards a goal of wellbeing for me, my family and community, and humanity, for this and future generations. I need to trust that as we move along, learning and adapting along the way, things will work out well in the long run.

We won’t get there unless we try. To me, this is la buena vida (the good life).



A developer’s dream: today like many days on this journey, we rolled by gated communities with whimsical names.


For miles and miles, we rolled past a sea of energy and transportation infrastructure, unmatched by anything I’ve ever seen, via the Joe Fulton International Trade Corridor in the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas.


We arrived at Glenn’s, our Warm Showers host, to find a welcoming host and warm home to settle into for a couple of nights while we prepare for the next chapter of our journey, Mexico.


We were surprised to find relatively little for messaging or access to environmentally sound waste management in Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas. Today I found this sign, the first of it’s kind that I’ve noticed in a very long time.


Glenn, our Warm Showers host for two nights, and Lothar realizing that they have more than bicycling in common.


They both brought their re-useable shopping bags. Lothar has become a bit of a celebrity (or to some an oddity) at many grocery stores in the southern U.S.A. His bag is much older than the 13 years we’ve been together.


Date: 27 Februrary 2016
A Day Off: Yippee!
Glenn drove us to the bike shop to pick up a few parts and then he took Lothar under his wing and taught him how to install a chain, on my bike.


With a watchful eye and steady hands, my bike is running smoother than ever. The previous chain installed on my bike was in Washington, DC.


Then Glenn took me under his wing and taught me about the local flora, including the mesquite trees across the road. He remembers tall grass prairie and creeks that flowed all year long where he grew up, only remnants exist there now. More for me to learn about and follow up on.


Glenn’s son’s dog, Bullet: If more people had the compassion, generosity and care of the numerous Warm Showers hosts that have opened their hearts and their homes to us, several when they’re working through life challenges of their own, the world would indeed be a better place for a much greater proportion of humanity.


28 February 2016: Glenn rode with us for several kilometres on our way out of town, into a head wind. When he left us we were feeling restored and refreshed but sad to say good-bye. I feel like my community is growing with each of the many incredible people we’ve met along the way. I know that if I could get them all in a room one day, it would be a zinger of a gathering.


See this Kingsville Record newspaper article to find out where we stayed the next night:

Canadians cycle their way through South Texas and beyond. We often camp in campgrounds (once in a nudist campsite, unbeknownst to us until we got there). We also wild camp (also know as cowboy camping), stay with Warm Showers hosts or, relatively infrequently, we end up in a hotel room or a playground or a church…


Thank you Judy and Glenn and Michael and Katherine for your wonderful hospitality on this chapter of our journey.

La Buena Vida: Mexico here we come!



Smithsonian Magazine Article: The Vikings: A Memorable Visit to America Website: smithsonianmag.com (accessed 2 March 2016).

State Symbols USA website: www.statesymbolsusa.org (accessed 2 March 2016).

10 Responses

  1. Rob Kernachan

    Love reading your ‘reports’ “)
    ride on !
    Rob & Nancy

  2. Karen Diemert

    Excellent story Deb and Lothar! Makes me want to parachute in and cycle along. You are meeting some fascinating people because you both exude the same. And a newspaper article in the local paper – good people do exist everywhere. I enjoy reading your thoughts on what you see and experience and appreciate you sharing with us. Your journey is exciting and my transmission sends power for you to keep going! Mexico will be a new eye opening experience- look forward to the stories. Stay safe! hugs karen and bruce

  3. Deb Wellwood

    Thank you kindly, Rob. I’ve got a compare and contrast bike touring and sea kayaking post burning to be written. Happy Paddling, Deb

  4. Deb Wellwood

    Thanks a lot Karen. I hope that I can do this experience justice in sharing our journey with others. One of the ladies in the parish was so excited she called the reporter, who arrived just in time for breakfast. Your feedback and good vibes are heading for my next post. Best Wishes.

  5. Matthew

    Thank you for this reflection! “I’m learning that the greatest ideas and best information comes from people with local knowledge—people that are closely connected to the place they’re recommending we visit or suggesting to avoid.”

  6. Deb Wellwood

    You’re welcome! It’s a lesson that has directed and redirected us to lots of wonderful places.

  7. Doug Hughes

    Wow, …I’m sitting here in Bocas town in Panama reading your blog …and it makes me smile ….love what you are doing ……..keep em coming

  8. Deb Wellwood

    Hi Doug, Thinking about meeting you and the wonderful surprise birthday party you gave me on the banks of (what River was that?) the day before heading into the USA from New Brunswick with heavy frost nipping at our heals…makes me smile. Now it’s full on spring in Texas, a day or so before heading into Mexico…hard to believe. Thanks again!

  9. Leah, Dave,Navi

    We sure love your posts Deb and enjoy all of your insights along the way. Occasionally we have pangs of nostalgia missing the two of you and our family dinners. However, your vivid depictions and photos make us feel like we are some how along for the ride! xxoo, Leah, Dave and Navi

  10. Deb Wellwood

    Well then Leah, Dave, and Navi, I’d better get into more regular posts before you get too far behind me. Thanks! I’m sending bear hugs your way, Deb