bicycle touring Photography Uncategorized


I decided to go back and take advantage of a few new photoshop tools and re-edit a bunch of pictures from a few years ago. These are all from the Sloss Furnaces in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the most amazing places that we visited while on our bicycle tour in 2008/2009. If you like you can go back and read about the site HERE, along with a decidedly less, perhaps, over-processed set of photos. The main reason I’m posting them is that I am thinking about having a few ‘Archival Prints’ done of some of these (which is kinda expensive) and I just want to have them in an easily accessible place so that I can continue to hem and haw about the prospect of doing so without having to open them all individually. In any case, if you are ever anywhere near this place you should make it your mission to visit. I wish that I could go again tomorrow!

bicycle touring Photography Sustainability


“I confess that I am angry at the manufacturers who make these things. There are days when I would be delighted if certain corporation executives could somehow be obliged to eat their products. I know of no good reason why these containers and all other forms of manufactured ‘waste’—solid, liquid, toxic, or whatever—should not be outlawed. There is no sense and no sanity in objecting to the desecration of the flag while tolerating and justifying and encouraging as a daily business the desecration of the country for which it stands.

“But our waste problem is not the fault only of our producers. It is the fault of an economy that is wasteful from top to bottom—a symbiosis of an unlimited greed at the top and a lazy, passive, and self-indulgent consumptiveness at the bottom—and all of us are involved in it. If we wish to correct this economy, we must be careful to understand and to demonstrate how much waste of human life is involved in our waste of the material goods of Creation. For example, much of the litter that now defaces our country is fairly directly caused by the massive secession or exclusion of most of our people from active participation in the food economy. We have made a social ideal of minimal involvement in the growing and cooking of food. This is one of the dearest ‘liberations’ of our affluence. Nevertheless, the more dependent we become on the industries of eating and drinking, the more waste we are going to produce. The mess that surrounds us, then, must be understood not just as a problem in itself but as a symptom of a greater and graver problem: the centralization of our economy, the gathering of the productive property and power into fewer and fewer hands, and the consequent destruction, everywhere, of the local economies of household, neighborhood, and community.”
— from the essay Waste by Wendell Berry 1989

The above photograph is from the tail end of the Delaware & Raritan Canal State Park just outside Trenton, NJ. That’s right, this is sponsored by the State of New Jersey (although, in fairness the rest of the canal trail was extraordinary.) It gets worse further on into the actual city, though. The whole “urban nightmare” is in effect. I took this picture last summer while Brie and I were on our bike tour, and I regularly go back to look at it, and try to reason how it made, and makes, me feels to see all that trash, with the turtle presiding over it all like it’s his kingdom. As I was reading the essay from which the above quote is copied, I realized that Wendell Berry had articulated my comparably rudimentary thoughts some 20 years ago in this powerful injunction. I challenge every one who reads this to go a single day without consuming something that comes pre-made or packaged.

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All Downhill

A word to the wise: Do Not Attempt to Snow Shoe Through Texas!

The idea of doing an end of the bicycle tour blog has given me bloggers block for some time now. It has proven difficult to come up with a clever or witty way to express giving something up, so I’ve decided to forego all that and do a basic rundown of events in order to finally move onto other serious blog business. The gist of it is that things were intensely boring and unsatisfying throughout the entire state of Texas, and from the looks of things the atmosphere wasn’t going to change much in the next 1000 miles (i.e.: between El Paso and San Diego). Meanwhile, we were spending money on all kinds of gross food and lodging accommodations, and it just got to the point where it wasn’t worth it anymore. I basically snapped when we stopped for lunch La Familia in Sierra Blanca off Interstate 10, and was served the same soggy corn tortillas filled with boiled chicken thighs and watery pico de gallo in a room where the patrons were either Border Patrol or at least 100 lbs. overweight. That’s where I told Brie I was ready to give it up, and she more or less agreed, although somehow it was harder for her than for me. And that’s it. The next day would be our last, from Fort Hancock to El Paso, and it would also prove to be one of the most trying of the whole trip: ninety degrees in February, with west winds at 30 to 40 MPH. By the time we made it into El Paso it was like 8PM, and all we had really heard about the place was that Mexican drug lords throw headless bodies off the bridges, so you can bet we were psyched to be riding through the place in the dark, right? Brie got the last flat tire of the trip as we rode underneath the bridge leading to Mexico.
Then we checked into this faux-swank hotel called El Camino Real and drank a gang of wine and calculated how much it was going to cost us to move to Portland, OR. That’s when we realized we were making the right decision in ending our bicycle trip. Cost will humble the purest of intentions. The next day we rented a Penske moving truck for our bicycles and headed due North, and now, here we are in Portland.

An addendum of some photos from Texas:

eaglesnestcanyonEagles Nest Canyon

goldengrassGolden Grass

purpleflowersThe Only Thing not dead in West Texas: these purple flowers.

whitecowsSome white cows on the roadside along the Rio Grande.

desertshoesPrada Marfa

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How We Roll


Waking up to this blanket will get you moving faster than ice cubes in your underpants. Once your eyes have adjusted, notice that it is the official Motel 6 blanket, the one from the room we stayed in the other day. Gabrielle and I got an early start that day, enticed by the prospect of all you can eat pancakes at IHOP across the street. So we geared up and were out by about 8:30, which is dead early for us–usually this is when we are thinking about getting out of bed. We actually prefer Waffle House, but you really can’t beat unlimited pancakes with 2 eggs and hashbrowns for 5 bucks (full disclosure: IHOP’s a sponsor (Psych-a-BOO-ski!)) So we at a couple plates, and got moving.

On our way out a member of the Kerrville, TX PD was roping in this crazy old bat that was wondering around outside. I saw her running across the blvd. a few seconds earlier, and the wind was so strong that a gust almost picked her up and put her on the roof of a high school. But seriously, the winds were blowing at about 20-30 MPH, the remnants of the front that blew through east Texas up to Oklahoma, causing all of those tornadoes. Some how we missed the brunt of that front. As we started to pedal it quickly became apparent that we weren’t going anywhere fast. In our easiest gears, we battled down Rte. 27 going a meager 4 to 5 MPH, which, if you don’t ride a bike is slow as molasses, and exceedingly frustrating. Brie likened us to those stupid seagulls you’ll see at the beach hovering above the shoreline. By the time we reached the next town, 7 miles and an hour and a half later, I was ready to call it a day, but we threw caution aside and pressed on. Once we entered the mountain passes the winds lessened to a great degree, and began to calm in general. At this point, the rolling elevations and the beautiful, temperate, sunny day took center stage and things began to look up.

This part of Texas has some problems right now. There has been a drought here for so long, that most of the people we’ve come in contact with have forgotten when it began. It seems that, essentially, the environment is changing over to a desert climate. It is dry everywhere. Everything is either yellow or brown. We have made countless river crossings that are nothing but a bed of rocks, and a lot of these beds have tire tracks so prominent they denote the river is no longer a river, but a road. Despite all of that, there is something alluring about the landscape that keeps the riding interesting.



Despite Brie almost being crushed by this family conveying an ass-boat full of fire wood to someplace or another, the rest of our ride that day was without incident. We passed by these two dudes headed east digging in to this killer pass that we were lucky enough to be headed down, and shortly coasted into Vanderpool where we hoped to find something decent to eat. As we sat outside at the picnic table spooning in mouthfuls of Frosted Mini-Wheats and drinking cans of Juminex two locals pulled up, one on a dirt bike and the other in a pick-up. The driver just about fell out of the truck, before heading in, and a minute later he and the other emerged from the store with a pack of pop-rocks each. The kid on the dirt bike dispensed with formality and dumped his whole bag right through his kisser, while the other looked him up and down and called him crazy with a smirk. I was just like these two motherfuckers just made a trip down to the store for some pop-rocks, and kept eating my cereal, when someone else showed up and bought a bag of corn nuts. I don’t even know. I suppose you get cravings, even in Texas Hill Country.

Well, somehow I managed to get a flat tire between the picnic table and the road. After I fixed that flat, I got another flat pumping up the new tube I installed after the valve broke off. That’s when I had a mini-breakdown because by them it was almost 5:30, and sundown is a little after 6:00. Meanwhile, we don’t know where we’re camping for the night. But, because I was so pissed, I declared that we were just going to have to camp right there on the spot. Gabrielle suggested we go through this gate that was open a few hundred feet back, which made sense because it would get us off the road. That’s when we discovered that every part of this part of Texas that isn’t the actual road is covered with big rocks. I can’t speak for everybody, but I don’t like to sleep on rocks. I had to fix my flat, again, and fast so we could keep moving, and I did so hastily. Luckily that patch held, and we were able to keep moving for the last light of the day. A half-mile further down the road there was a sign advertising a picnic area 1 mile away—-up a basically vertical 500 ft. elevation climb. That is when Gabrielle lost it. Climbs are still hard for us because we do things like eat a shit-ton of bar-B-que every chance we get, and if people are pouring wine, we’ll drink ’till all the bottles are dry. This climb was no exception, and neither of us wanted to do it, but We Bad, so we busted it out.


It wasn’t anything at the Picnic Area but a picnic table and a cold, hard slab of cement, so that was out. However, across the way the shoulder veered off to the side and down into a table covered in deer bones and empty cans of Big Red. What made this a desirable place to bed down for the evening was that some thoughtful somanabitch had the foresight to throw a mattress off his truck right there, we just had to pull it out of the brush. Working the bugged knot out the telephone wire binding it up, we pondered what we’d do if a dead whore flopped out. Releasing the knot, the mattress popped like a jack-knife, and we were somewhat relieved that we would only have to sleep on it, rather than run from it.


bicycle touring Uncategorized

Texas Photos So Far


We’re about halfway through Texas now. The following is some of the photos I’ve taken so far.


This is in a livestock auction house in Navasota that we slept in one night. I was doing a pretend auction.


This is a picture of the sunset through the roof at the same Navasota auction house.


This cat was at this lovely B&B we stayed at in Burton called the Front Porch. He was more or less a stray cat that hung out in the barn. I pet him for a while, and he fell in love with Brie and I. He stayed on the porch all night and would walk around the yard with us if we went any where. When you pet him his eyes would go all cross-eyed like they are in this picture. His name is Scruffy.


We weren’t really feeling Austin, so, as we had rented a car, decided to head down to Lockhart to sample the local BBQ scene. This town has 3 of the top BBQ joints in the state. We had intended to visit all three, but couldn’t keep going after the first two. We got put in a BBQ coma and could barely stand. This is the brisket and a garlic sausage from Black’s. We thought that we could eat some BBQ and we were wrong. There were some emmer-effers put us to shame up in this town. Naturally, they were mostly twice our size.


Texas Longhorns




There were about 50 goats on this hill we road past today. They all ran down to the gate to stare at us. It was bizarre.


At a small bridge crossing the Guadalupe River outside of Waring, TX.


My favorite vegetation thus far in Texas, the prickly pear cactus.

bicycle touring Uncategorized

FEMA Trailers


I don’t know enough about FEMA to properly criticize the agency, but this is some effed-up shit. Our friend from Baton Rouge showed us this site before dropping us off on Rte. 190 in Louisiana. There are thousands upon thousands of FEMA trailers in this field, which apparently stretches for three miles or so. All of them were brand new, and have been sitting here rotting away for about 3 years. The story is that a handful of people tried to sue FEMA because the trailers were making them feel nauseous due to the “new-car smell”—-glue and formaldehyde. SO long-story short, they took all these trailers and stuck’em in a field. The government pays $300,000 a year in rent. That’s almost a million in rent thus far, plus the costs of the trailers, which I certainly can’t calculate. Good-bye, tax dollars!


bicycle touring Uncategorized



Originally, our cross-country bicycling tour did not include a trip down to New Orleans, but after learning that one of our friends from Rochester was going to be in town, Gabrielle and I decided that it might be a mistake to pass up an opportunity to visit the Crescent City. We made our way from Natchez, MS down to Baton Rouge, LA where a member of the Warmshowers community was generous enough to let us store our bikes and gear for a few days. On Saturday morning we picked up our rental car from Enterprise ($16 a day (!) from Saturday through Tuesday) and drove down, arriving just in time for lunch. We had resolved to do as many tourist activities as we could in our first day, so here goes. . .


We made a beeline for Central Grocery in the French Quarter to get our hands on the famous Muffuletta. There was indeed a line out the door of this awesome italian specialty grocer, the majority in line for the same thing we were. A lady behind us asked “Is this the place I’m ‘sposed to get the sandwich?” We reassured her that she was in the right place. The sandwich consists of a 10″ round loaf of bread filled with a marinated olive salad, layers of capicola, salami, mortadella, emmentaler, and provolone. We ordered a whole one for $12.95 and each ate half, and ate it at the counter across from an elderly women washing hers down with a cold beer, telling us she only drinks one a week. . . when she comes for a Muffuletta! Someday, when we’re settled again, I’ll have to make my own version of this for inclusion in “My Favorite Sandwiches.”


Next, we worked our way down Decatur Street. We stopped at a local artists gallery and met an artist named Dan Fuller, who turned out to have spent a great deal of time in Rochester. We really liked his tree house paintings, so we bought a few postcard-sized prints, and he told us some scandalous mob stories from his days in the ROC. From one of his stories we gathered that Cafe Du Monde was up the block, so we went down and took a seat over-looking Jackson Square, and ordered some beignet’s and a couple café au lait’s to set on top of our giant sandwiches. That’s all they sell there, and the place is wicked sticky, but the doughnuts were pretty slammin’.


After that, we walked around for a bit before finding The India House Hostel to quickly check into our room, before heading off to the Metairie Cemetary, which we later learned is like the Rolls Royce of New Orleans cemeteries, an assertion that seemed true enough after seeing a few of the others around town.


There were many beautiful statues in the cemetery, but this one is probably my favorite. It is only about 18″ tall, and was actually on one of the grave sites where the dead had been buried, as opposed to the traditional New Orleans method of the above-ground tombs, which are shared by many family members. In these tombs, there are 2 or 3, and sometimes 4 levels or vaults, in which the remains of an entire family share the enclosed space. The bodies of the deceased are interred in one of the vaults, usually in a casket designed to facilitate a faster decomposition of the body, as opposed to the kind of casket many of us are familiar with; one designed to prolong the decomposition. When the time comes for a new internment, the vault is opened, and if the previous internment has decomposed enough, it is moved into a sack, and placed on the side of the vault in order to make room for the new body.


Leaving Metairie, we realized it was almost dinner time, so we drove down to Dick & Jenny’s, a restaurant that I admittedly found in the 36 Hours in New Orleans article at the NYTimes. Dinner went well, but the dish that drew me to the place, the Crawfish and Andouille Sausage Cheesecake, was truly a hit. Afterwards, we attempted to attend a house show over on the west side of town near Tulane University for a band called The Pharmacy, but the place just a fucking dump, trash every where, so we had to leave. Avoid show’s at Py’s Makeout Club, unless you’re a skeezed-out junky artist–in that case you should go. Instead, we went to Bourbon Street!


We spent most of our time there at a place called Fritzel’s, which was a small jazz club that had a 5 piece band playing that night. We sat and chatted with a few other tourist over a few beers while the music played before doing a quick walking tour of the length of Bourbon. We (um. . . thankfully) narrowly missed seeing a 40 year old woman flash her titties in exchange for a shower of beads, saw what could have been John Kennedy Toole’s hotdog vendor, pattyoshurricane1and rounded everything off with a Hurricane from Pat O’Brian’s (save yourself a trip–it’s basically Hawaiian Punch in a shit bar.) Catching a cab back to the hostel, our cabbie told us we left just at the right time (1:15AM.) When we asked why, he told us that it was about the time all the New Orleans thugs came down to Bourbon in order to roll as many tourists for their cash and camera’s as they could, and the cops didn’t do much about it because they left with the drunks. True? Not True? We can’t say, but we’re glad we left all the same. We were tired from a long day anyway.



We planned to do a number of things on Sunday, but nothing came to fruition due to a combination of over-sleeping, and a LONG breakfast at Betsy’s Pancake House. We had originally intended to attend Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, and then try and follow a jazz funeral around the French Quarter, but instead we ended up meandering around aimlessly, which I think might actually be one of NOLA’s biggest pastimes. While wandering, we were bamboozled into a Ghost Tour. Brie and I were awed by the Tourist Info kiosk lady’s selling skillz. We had a late lunch at Bennachin (1212 Royal St.), an African restaurant specializing in cuisine from Gambia and Cameroon. Everything was delicious and cheap! Follow that, we began boozing in preparation for our Ghost Tour. stpetertrumpet2We discovered that the bar next to the meeting place offered 2 for 1 drink specials for those going on a tour. In other words, two Guinness for $4.00. (That’s a a real steal when you consider that to have a beer in a bar costs $6.00, or to get one “to go” from the same bar generally costs $3.00.) The ghost tour was fun, mainly because the guide was a good story-teller, but alas, no ghosts. He did give us a few restaurant recommendations afterward, which ended up being worth the ticket price alone. After the tour, we bounced back and forth between the aforementioned cheap Guinness, and the Preservation Hall, which was right across the street. The St. Peter Street All-stars, a band led by a very heavy trumpet player. The bands at PH play mostly jazz standards in a classic style that is neither smooth or cheesy. The highlight for me was the St. Louis Blues. After we left the show, we bought some chips and salsa from store across the street, went back to the hostel, and that was Sunday.


And now for something truly gluttonous. . .


Gabrielle and I hung out at the hostel for a while on Monday before heading out to lunch at “The Joint”, a barbecue bunker on the east side of town in the Bywater neighborhood, just before you cross the bridge over to the Lower 9th Ward. We learned about this place from our Ghost Tour Guide, who, after we told him of our affection for the pig, boasted that it had some of the best barbecue in the country. Naturally, we couldn’t resist. rib We ordered a Full Rack with two sides, baked macaroni & cheese and potato salad, with 2 Diet Cokes for $22. This has to be one of the best deals in town, and the steady stream of costumers testified to that fact. The ribs were totally awesome!—-everything you could hope in a good BBQ, and more, thick juicy, succulent, tender, all that. You should check it out, bar-B-que fan.

So. There was that, and as I’ve mentioned before, We Bad!, so it shouldn’t surprise you that we headed over to Cochon Butcher to catch a Pork Belly Sandwich an hour later. cochonbutcher Cochon was one of the restaurants that we really wanted to make it to their off-shoot, but were never able to work it in to the schedule, so it was awesome to be able to make this stop. Cochon does an incredible array of dishes featuring the mighty pig, as well as a number of other specialties, but the butcher shop mainly sells charcuterie, and specialty meats, as well as a number of sandwiches. We went for the Pork Belly Sandwich, because when I hear the words “pork belly”, I’m sold. It was prepared with slices of pork belly confit, mint, cuccumber, and aioli, on fresh homemade white bread, and was well worth the trip. However, the true surprise was the Bacon Praline. I bought this on a whim because they were selling it for a song—-cheaper than regular praline. We intended to save it for later, but couldn’t resist and broke off a couple pieces in the car. What over-took us is nearly indescribable! It was basically an explosion of bacon, like if you ate a whole pound of bacon in one bite, with sweet, brown sugary undertones. It took us to the Bacon-Dimension or some shit. We both sat back, and waited for the rest of the world to catch up.

Lafayette Cemetery 2

When we thought that reality had sufficiently returned, we drove down to Lafayette Cemetery #1 where we treated to an impromptu tour by ex-marine Sean Perry. He was funny because he kept calling the group “Kids” even though 80% of us were 30 years older than him. We’re actually not sure if he was an accredited tour guide, but he was definitely knowledgeable, despite smelling like bourbon.

Brie and I spent the remainder of our time in New Orleans hanging with our friend Kim and her boyfriend Gilbert. It was his birthday and we spent a large majority of the time either drinking or recovering from drinking. We spent some time at the Spotted Cat, an un-amplified live music bar (one of my favorite places in the city), and d.b.a., which boasted a huge drink selection, probably the finest in New Orleans. Both of these places are on Frenchman Street, which, IMO, is a far better area to spend the evening than anywhere even remotely close to Bourbon.

We thought that we were going to see more of the devastation that Hurricane Katrina had wrought, but it was hard to come by without taking an expensive tour, and we weren’t sure exactly where to go. We caught glimpses here and there, but for the most part, New Orleans proper was in pretty good shape. The 9th Ward was pretty tore down still, and there were garbage piles all over a lot of the neighborhoods, but the city is making a lot of progress. I would say approximately 1 out of 8 houses are still empty all over the city, with little chance of being filled—-most of them need to be out-right rebuilt. It was good staying with Gilbert, and being able to hear the inside story from a long-time resident. Not surprisingly, everyone you meet has a Katrina story, but I don’t think that New Orleans is a city that can be defined by that tragedy alone any more. I believe that Crescent City is on its way to returning to its former glory.


bicycle touring

How We Made it From Alabama to Louisiana


The cold weather finally broke and it is beautiful and warm now in the deep south. Since we started riding again back on January 3rd it has been either freezing or raining, or a combination of both. The weather made things very stressful. This post is to acknowledge and thank the people who helped us along the way from Alabama to Louisiana.


Courtland and Willamina hosted Brie and I while we were in Birmingham. On the first day in town, Willamina drove us all over the place so we could buy new tubes, and do the wash. She also was very knowledgeable about the history of Birmingham, and we had a wonderful time talking with her. The next day Courtland brought us to The Original Pancake House where we had an awesome breakfast, and then showed us around the city. We are very grateful for their kindness and generosity.

We are thankful that Hugh and Lona Plylar put us up in their extra house in Parrish, AL. It was freezing that night and they saved us from spending the night in the post office.

Also while in Parrish, we met a group of gentlemen at Smokin’ Joe’s who helped us a great deal, but specifically, it was Terry Barnes who helped us find our way through Alabama that day.

After finally making it to Mississippi, we stayed a night with Ryan Storment in Starkville. He is a student at MSU, and was a very interesting fellow, with a fresh perspective on life. He also escorted us on our way the next day, and gave us flawless direction to the Natchez Trace.


Donna and Gary Holdiness were the consummate hosts. While we were there, the temperature fell into the single digits. They put up with us for longer than they should have because we were too fearful of riding in the cold. Donna put some wedding ideas in Brie’s head which has really stirred the pot, and created a lot of trouble for me, but I can forgive her for that. If you are ever touring down the Natchez Trace and a women driving a white Suburban accosts you, just go with it–you won’t be sorry you did!



The last family we stayed with in Mississippi was Don and Becky Potts, and their daughter Cedar. As you can see in the picture, they have a mini horse. This is significant for two reasons: 1. They lived right in the middle of Jackson, MS, and, 2. Look at how cute she is! The horse’s name is Little River, and Brie fell in love with her at first sight. It was definitely cool seeing a mini horse walking around the yard of this neighborhood. Don took us to the Rainbow Co-op, which he helped found like 30 years ago, and now it’s a flourishing alternative grocery store. We ate dinner and then they proceeded to pour endless glasses of wine for us, before we moved on to Irish Cream and Caramel shots, talking and laughing all the while! We had a great time with them, and are thankful for their hospitality.

Two days later we rode over the Mississippi River and into Louisiana. Since then, the weather has turned for the better and we are looking at endless days of 70º weather, and sunshine. This weekend we are headed into New Orleans for some jazz, cajun food, and booze. We can’t help but think we wouldn’t be here in such good spirits and health with out all the people we met through Alabama and Mississippi.


bicycle touring Uncategorized

Two Rooms: Part I

On our last day in Birmingham, AL, Gabrielle and I stayed at the Sloss Furnaces too long, and ended up having to find a place for the night. We stopped and had an early dinner at The Bottle Tree, a cool place on the east side of town that has a decent menu and books some pretty good bands [full disclosure: we stole one of their Los Campesinos! posters from the ladies room–sorry guys! but we really loved it.] So anyway, we were hanging out for a while and drinking a few beers, and before we realized it, it was dark outside. We had to find a room for the night, and a close one. We did a little online research and found the closest motel was a mere .4 miles away: The Star Motel. So we rolled down there, and paid a visit to the office. Many of the low budget motels in the US are run by Indian family’s, and so was this one. We did did business through the money slot, bending down to talk so our voices would carry through the tiny opening, the rich pungent smell of curry punching us in the face. The women said: You pay rent first, 42 dollars, an expression which perplexed Brie to no end. We paid and were passed the room key and remote.

Opening the door to the room was akin to being slapped in the face with a giant pack of Double Mint Chewing Gum. As we ventured in, and our eyes adjusted, it was confirmed that we had indeed booked our night of rest in a flophouse, but it started to pour outside, and we generally sleep in a stank-ass tent, so whatever. As I do every time we get a room, I immediately turned on the television (a bad habit), and there before my weary eyes: The Playboy Channel!

Dildo TV

Brie thought it was hilarious that I was initially reluctant to change the channel for fear we may lose it, but in the end SHE was the one who kept turning back to it. Pornography’ll take a hold of you! So we watched that and the Weather Channel, while we waited for a pizza that never showed up. Later, after we had gone to sleep, a couple came in the room next door, and either the walls were paper-thin, or they were loud, or both, and she was excited to watch TV Land, but I think he was more interested in the PBC, because something prompted him to declare that he would “kick yer head in like a soccer ball if you keep messing with my station!”

abandoned bicycle touring

The Sloss Furnaces


We couldn’t leave Birmingham, AL without visiting one of the main reasons for its growth and early years of prosperity: Sloss Furnaces. Located on the east side of the city, after producing much of the country’s steel for nearly 90 years, this monument to industrialism was nearly lost in 1971, when it was argued that maintaining the facility would not be feasable, and therefore it was recommended the furnaces be dismantled. Luckily, a dedicated group of citizens known as the Sloss Furnace Association fought for its preservation with the help of a number of other organizations, and 12 years later, on Labor day in 1983 the site was dedicated as a National Historic Landmark.


Making iron requires three components that are found in abundance in the Birmingham area: iron ore, limestone, and coke, a derivative of coal. The process of making iron goes something like this: the aforementioned raw materials are brought to the furnace by rail car, where they are unloaded into a stock bin located close to the blast furnace (the structure in the first photo that looks like it has a platform on top). Next a skip car, attached to a conveyor hoist, is loaded from the stock bins and and the raw materials are transported up and into the mouth of the furnace. Upon entering the furnace, the raw materials are blasted with extremely hot air that is blasted from the bottom of the furnace. The hot air blasts burns the coke which produces a chemical reaction with the iron ore, and the limestone acts as a cleansing agent which removes impurities from the ore. This reaction creates molten iron which would collect at the bottom of the furnace, along with the impurities, a stony waste matter known as slag. The slag was lighter than the iron, and would sit on top of it in molten form, where it would then be drawn off the top at the bottom of the furnace through a higher notch, while the iron would be drawn out through a lower one.


The remainder of the facility was dedicated to producing the hot air, which needed to reach 1400ºF in order to be effective. Among the essential components of this network is the Boilers, the Blower Building, and the Hot Blast Stoves. Water was boiled in the Boilers, which run alongside the Blower House, in order to create steam which was probably the most important element in the running of the furnaces. Steam produced the power to run the skip car hoist, the generator producing electricity for the furnace, and the steam engines/turboblowers which produced the air that ran to the Hot Blast Stoves. The Blower Building housed the enormous engines that produce the air. Eight engines standing at more than thirty feet each turned flywheels (giant cogs) at speeds of 70MPH. One of the more gruesome sounding deaths at Sloss (of which there were 20) was of a man that was eating lunch in the Blower House with a co-worker. He was leaning close to one of the flywheels, and the story goes his co-worker looked at him, looked away for a second, and looked back and he was gone, sucked into the flywheel. By the time they could stopped the engine, nothing remained of him. It’s stories like this that lead many to believe that Sloss is haunted.


Pictured above is a couple of the Hot Blast Stoves which were responsible for heating the air before it was sent into the furnace. Constructed of steel shells, lined with a layer of heat-resistant bricks, and a lattice of bricks called checkers. The waste gases from the furnace were burned in order to heat the checkers, which in turn heated the air before it was carried to the furnace through a series of large pipes.


One of the coolest things that I learned about Sloss Furnaces is that they turn it into a Haunted House for Halloween. This place is perfect for it. While the self-guided tour is a lot of fun, be sure and try to make time for the guided tour, which is led by a Sloss historian who clearly loves the place, and has many interesting stories to relate. I encourage everyone to visit if they ever happen to be in Alabama, especially around October 31st!