It’s taken so long to collect this part of the story, the events described have happened over a year ago by now. I hemmed and hawed over whether this was a storyline I wanted to keep for myself, but ultimately I’d always intended to chronicle this segment of journey. It was only laziness and brain trauma that held me back. So, here was the plan, cooked up over Christmas in Montana at Fred sister’s. I will do my best to document the amazing, make-or-break experience that was riding 2,200 miles from Austin to Vegas for a rally, with a boyfriend on a 50 year old Vespa.
Don’t worry, it’s mostly photos.
But first, I had to actually leave Atlanta and get to Austin to meet Fred.
All these goodbyes, I guess I’d grown attached to Atlanta in the few months I spent here.
To be honest, The Roar had begun to feel a bit worn out – I wasn’t sure I wanted to cross the continent again. I’d built up a pretty good system on the road by now, shouldn’t I be pushing boundaries by setting my sights on other continents or something? But with Fred planning and riding alongside me, a spark was ignited for something just different and boundary-pushing enough. Besides, I got to see a bit of his life in Cambridge, this would be his chance to dip toes in my world. In the meantime, I took advantage of being in one place to fix everything I could.
Of course, as pressure mounts and you close in on a big date, something’s gotta blow. A few days before departure as I was pulling out of a regular Saturday afternoon coffee with Wai’s drawing crew, my bike shot out from under me and landed on its side. I was rear ended by some kid, probably driving his parent’s car.
In my 52k of riding, it’s my first collision ever.
I was unharmed and suspect the combination of my Vespa, Pelican case, and crash bars did more damage to the MDX than it took (when police arrived they were like, “Where’s the other vehicle that was hit?”), but still cue emergency visit to John at Vespa Marietta.
It turns out there were violent thunderstorms the day I intended to set off anyway, so I lingered another day and got to taste Auntie Florence’s handmade turnip cakes – she was making them specially for Gwynne’s return. They’re a bit early for Chinese New Year but I snuck a few in…I love slow, flexible travel (and so does my stomach).
In the early morning chill (3 Celsius!), I hit the freeway for an hour straight away to skirt the city before picking up US-29 south. I banged out 365 miles to Pensacola, FL, with just two stops: one to put on my silk sock liners, the next for a coffee break.
I was still running a bit late and arrived past dark, but Jami (jamisea) met me at a Dairy Queen and guided me into their fantastic home in Pensacola. In messages over MV she had suggested an Irish pub for dinner. Being an adopted New Englander I was familiar with the concept, but I couldn’t have predicted McGuire’s. It’s a labyrinth of bristling dollar bills stapled to every surface, and it seemed to grow thicker as you walked deeper. The nachos also seemed to grow as you ate them too…
I’d expressed concern that I was a bit early for Mardi Gras, but it turns out it doesn’t matter! Caitlin assured me parades would be going on all weekend. Announced by trumpets, one marched just outside the dive bar we were patronizing, Snake and Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge. It was Caitlin and Jeremy’s first time checking out this spot as well (it has Christmas right in the name, what could go wrong?), and super fun sharing some new city exploration with them.
After our fantastic night out, the place to hit for breakfast was City Diner. When they asked Caitlin how she takes her coffee, she said, “In a mug. Viatmin C for Coffee.” After my own heart.
We’d heard there were some traditions around tasks and obligations for the person who finds a baby in their piece of King cake, but our cake from the grocery store had an external baby. Unsure whether this was standard practice but with a heap of Fuck this cake anyway, we dissected the entire cake looking for a ‘true baby’ hidden in dough. It was never found it. I guess cake ritual has given way to choking hazards and chipped teeth, and we’ll have to have fun other ways. Good thing we picked up drinks and snacks, and have scoots!
I doubt most attendees were prepping for upcoming religious fasting, but I was happy to get swept into the atmosphere of overindulgence – it’s not like you need an excuse for a party in this town. Taking in the costumes on the street I felt underdressed and overdressed at the same time, and that’s just the locals. The carnival floats seemed to get more extravagant and outrageous as the sun set, as did the sightings of people passed out on the grass from the mixed exertion of alcohol absorption and frenzied bead catching. We wandered from campout to campout, catching freebies and making conversation until it got too cold and we could no longer survive on box wine, jerky, and our hard-won, hand-caught cache of individually wrapped sweets. So we went for Japanese and overindulged on sushi instead.
There’s nothing like sobering up at the end of the night by weaving three tiny bikes home through multi-block post party wastelands, in freezing February temps. Gales threw garbage bag tumbleweeds across our paths, and the ever present party ice (aka. Mardi Gras beads) accumulated in drifts. It was a chilly ride, but we made it back safely.
On another morning, day drinking might mean sleeping in, but I needed to hit the road early. Too soon (and too early!) it was time to say goodbye to Caitlin and Jeremy, but saying was eased by the knowledge that I would see them soon in Vegas for the High Rollers Rally. One more stop before Fred and I join forces in Austin, I’m on a timeline…
My aunt and uncle from previous stays in Houston invited me to a massive Chinese New Year dinner at 6pm. Timing was tight and the wind that dogged me through much of Texas seemed to pick up right on cue over the state line, but I made it just in time for the feast. Mardi Gras to Chinese New Year, let the overindulgences roll!
As an aside, over dinner one of the uncles* recalled he once owned a Lambretta back in the day in Hong Kong. I can only imagine the colorful Cantonese curses hurled at that bike.
There’s nothing like putting miles under your wheels and eating a big meal to make for a good night’s sleep.
*Non-blood relations are uncles and aunties in Chinese circles too.
I called my parents in Hong Kong over FaceTime (yep, still alive and still riding!) and reveled in my good fortune to spend Chinese New Year with family. The previous new year I found myself camping solo along the Pacific Coast Highway – actually, a totally rewarding experience in different ways.
My stay this time was short though. Fred was landing in Austin just a few hours away, and in the morning I savored a few last turnip cakes for the road.
With the sighting of my first Buc-ee’s, I’m truly in Texas now…again!