Monday, March 31, 2008

Lost in Richmond

I looked out of the window in the morning and while the ground was wet, it wasn’t raining. The temperature in the morning was already warmer than the high for the previous day, so I had high hopes for a good day on the bike. I was hoping to have a big day so I started out at an aggressive pace. I slowed a bit when I came to the town of Smithfield, home to Smithfield Foods, best known for their ham. While I didn’t get any scents of cooking ham as I rode through town, I did get a whiff of the hog confinements. Not nearly as pleasant. It is just a reminder where our food comes from. Most people take for granted that they can go to a supermarket and pick up a ham, without thinking about, or wanting to think about where it had come from.

The hills had officially started. While I wasn’t in the mountains, the hills required some work to climb. I would ride over the steady undulations all the way to Richmond, VA. I was also getting to the area that was heavily involved in the Civil War. The State of Virginia was not shy about putting up historical markers all over the place. The seemingly had a historical marker for any and everything that transpired prior to 1850, regardless of how significant. Early on in Virginia I had stopped at nearly every historical marker, but I had to forego my breaks, as it would take three hours to cover a mile. I probably don’t need to know that it was in 1637 Isle of Wight County received its name, being changed from Warrascoyack.

I rode through some towns with less than common names: Bacons Castle, Yellow Tavern and Rushmere. As I rode through the town of Rushmere, VA I could not believe that I didn’t see one thing using a play on words and calling itself Mt. Rushmere. It is what I have come to expect of America.

As I rode along I was heartened when I began to see patches of dry road. For a brief moment I also saw the smallest patch of blue in the sky, but unfortunately, it wouldn’t last for long.

When I arrived in the city of Hopewell, the trees were replaced by smokestacks. A pungent odor also came across my nose the second I hit the city limit. I would have preferred riding along with a dirty sweat sock over my nose. The only thing I wanted to do in Hopewell was get out of Hopewell. My negative thoughts brought a drizzle. I just hoped it stayed as one. In my estimation, Hopewell is to Richmond, what Gary, Indiana is to Chicago.

I rode along in a daze and I was ten miles beyond where I was supposed to have to turned when I finally realized it. I blew right past Richmond. I took a detour and approached the city from the southwest instead of the east. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world, but I did tack on a number of miles to my day.

I did eventually make it to Richmond and promptly become totally lost. I followed a bike route sign as opposed to sticking to my plan and was completely turned around. I ended up in an area of town where I had no business being. I made a quick U-turn and tried to get back to the center of town that seemed safer. I wanted to pull out my laptop to check the map, but it wasn’t happening. Not in that area. Three urban youths on bicycles decided to mess with me. I sped past them only to listen to threats being yelled at me. I was able to make a few quick turns to lose them. Had the circumstances been only slightly different, my day may have ended up wallet free, or worse. I just kept riding until I found a place I could pull out my laptop and check my map.

Once I escaped Richmond to the north I hit some real hills. The hills were large enough that I was coasting down the backside at 30MPH. It was one hill after the next. Each time I got to the top of a hill I was hoping for a change, but it wasn’t to be.

In the afternoon the real rain began. The on and off drizzle turned to a steady rain. I once again donned my plastic bag rain gear and continued on. This time when I came upon a hotel though, I decided to stay they instead of just drying off. I was growing tired of taking an hour to clean my bike each night, though it has to be done. I probably have around 10,000 miles on that bike and it is still going strong.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Back to the Rainy Mainland

As I had expected, I really wasn’t making much time in the morning. The wind was pushing against me with some force. As I rode along I just looked at the beach houses as I was passing by. Within 15 minutes of leaving my hotel the rain began. It started slowly and quickly picked up. I pulled in a gas station to get out of the rain for a bit and hoped it might pass. It didn’t. While it was cold, it wasn’t as cold as I thought it might be, so I put on a vest I had made out of a garbage bag and pedaled on.

I had a route planned out that would take me over the northern bridge back to the mainland. As sometimes happens though, a sign crops up for a bicycle route and I decide to head in that direction instead. I took the bike path and got completely lost. I should have stayed straight on the road I knew, but I took the bike route. I had no idea where the route was taking me, but it was through a nice wooded area and got me out of the wind. So it wasn’t a total loss. While it generally is not the case, this bike route spat me out exactly where I had hoped, at the foot of the bridge back to the mainland. About half the cars that passed from behind coming from the beach were laden with fishing poles, surfboards, bicycles, beach chairs or some combination thereof.

By midmorning I stopped at a rest stop. Due to the steady rain that was soaking me through, the day was on the verge of being miserable. I was just hoping the rain would stop. In the past I mentioned that the waiting to go out and ride in the cold rain was worse than the actual riding. Not in this case. I was seriously cold and wet, even while being adorned with plastic bags. I had two Subway sandwich bags on my feet, plastic bags on my hands and my white garbage bag vest. I looked like a Halloween costume gone wrong.

Shortly after setting out in the rain again I was thinking that perhaps I should have stayed another day in Kill Devil Hills. It wasn’t the most fun I had ever had on a bike, but still wasn’t worse than that day out of Phoenix, AZ. I would find myself stopping every five or ten miles to use the hand dryers in a fast food restaurant. It would dry off my gloves and try and warm my hands. It wasn’t ideal, but every little bit helped. The plastic bags on the feet worked well for a while, but would then start to collect water. At first it had the insulating properties of a wet suit, but then it was more like sticking my foot in a water balloon.

Shortly after crossing the Virginia State line I encountered what was probably the hardest rain in which I have ever ridden. I was squinting to keep the rain out of my eyes, yet trying to catch a glimpse of the road. I was just getting colder and colder as I rode along. I wasn’t sure how much longer I would be able to endure. In the afternoon, after 80 difficult miles I chanced across a hotel. I went to the hotel and instead of calling it a day, I went in and used their dryer, so that I could dry my stuff and get back out in the rain and ride a bit more. It was one of those days where people would say that I have to be absolutely crazy. In a way, I agree. Perhaps it was my less than lucid state of mind having ridden in the chilly rain all day. I was just glad that no one had walked in on me in the laundry room. They would have seen a guy in a pair of bike shorts typing away at his laptop. An odd sight for sure.

I had considered ending the day at the hotel as the following day was supposed to be 10 degrees warmer with a chance of rain. Today was cold and 100% raining. For the past couple of days though I had been speaking to Don, a local guy who owns a couple bike shops in the area. While his shop was closed on Sunday, he said he would meet me there to give me some directions to get further north. I met up with Don, who could not have been more hospitable. I was armed with a solid bike route up to Washington DC.

I ended up tacking on another 20 miles for the day. I spent over an hour getting the filth off my bike. Ideally, not how I like to spend my evening after riding in the rain all day.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Extra Day on the Outer Banks

I knew that I would have some heavy winds against me on the day. With that, I was planning on leaving as the sun was coming up in an effort to try and beat the wind. Much to my chagrin though, I was woken up several times during the night by the wind rattling my windowpanes. When I got up at 5:30 I opened my door and was blasted by the wind. I checked the weather for the coming few days and while it didn’t look much better, it did look better. The Outer Banks were pleasant enough and I wasn’t in a real hurry, so I called the audible and decided to stay another day. When I initially got to town I had thought about taking a day or two to work towards my final kiteboarding certification, but it was even too windy for that. There would have been something fitting about getting my last certification in Kitty Hawk.

I did take a walk along the beach and watched the birds. I get a kick out of the little plover that race along the waterline, their legs moving a mile a minute. Like I said, simple things keep me amused. Believe it or not, I miss the days of non-linear differential calculus. The seagulls appeared to be playing a game of kill the guy with the ball, the ball being substituted by a half of a fish. It was chaos. The weather wasn’t conducive to any outdoor activities, so I spent a majority of the day trying to research my route back to New York. It looks as if I am going to come in under 5,000 miles, but I still have some serious riding to do.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The History of Flight

It hasn’t been since Texas that I had taken a day off to do some proper sightseeing, so I figured I would enjoy a day in the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks are home to Kitty Hawk and the Wright Brothers National Monument, birthplace of powered flight.

At the Wright Brothers National Monument there are a series of four cairns set up, each representing the distance covered on each of the four flights of the Wright Brothers first plane, “The Flyer" The distances of the first three flights were: 120, 175 & 200 feet. Those distances seem so meager when physically looking at them. A kid could throw a baseball 200 feet. The fourth flight was a much better at 852 feet. Even so, 852 feet is still less than three football fields in length. While not very long, it was the start of something much, much bigger.

From 1903 to present, powered flight developed at astounding an astounding rate, sometimes by aircraft enthusiasts and at others by various governments.

Look how far powered flight has come in 78 years:

1903 - First powered flight

1911 - first flight across the Untied States

1914 - first scheduled commercial flight

1929 - first blind flight, instruments only

1933 - first round the world flight

1939 - first true jet powered plane

1942 - first rocket in space

1947 - first flight breaking the sound barrier

1957 - first rocket carrying cargo to space

1961 - first man in space

1969 - first man on moon

1970 - Boeing 747 makes first commercial flight

1976 - Concorde began commercial service

1981 - first reusable space craft lands after first mission

OK, this is about riding a bike and not the history of flight, so I will leave it at that. I am just really impressed.

In the afternoon I went for a walk along the beach. It was the first time I had enjoyed an East Coast beach in quite some time.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Back on the Coast

I don’t know how I could have forgotten; I had a near total wipeout yesterday. I was crossing an open grate bridge and the ridges on the deck that ran in the direction I was riding were a bit higher than usual. I was about halfway across when things started to go wrong. Carrying my gear far back and up high on my bike as I do, didn’t help the situation. Whether the wind pushed me from the side or if I just didn’t hold a straight line in the two-inch groove, my front tire jumped to the left a few groves over, but my back tire didn’t follow. Instead, my bike started sliding, which turned into fishtailing. After a few seconds I was able to straighten out my bike and even managed to keep myself on it. I slowed down crossing the remainder of the bridge. I didn’t think about it until later how miserable a wipeout that would have been. First off, I can’t imagine that landing on solid steel grating would be much fun. Secondly, when you fall off a bike you are supposed to roll. There wouldn’t have been much rolling taking place on a steel grate. It would have been one big metallic thud. Worst of all, there were a number of cars right behind me. I tend to doubt that the cars would have been able to stop in time to not run me over.

I have to stay in hotels with less comfortable beds. They are becoming an enabler to sleep later than I plan to. I got an early start, but still half an hour later than I would have liked. It was possibly the roughest start I had to date. It wasn’t the external conditions, but rather myself. My legs just didn’t want to turn the cranks. I was riding at 13 MPH and that was all I had. I don’t know if I didn’t get enough sleep, I didn’t eat properly the night before or what, but I struggled. I had also lowered my seat somewhat to see if it would eliminate the knee pain I had been having for the last few days. Lowering the seat may have helped out my knee, but it also took away some of the power from the extra leg extension, so I had to pedal just that little but harder to keep the same pace.

Fortunately, by the time I rode past the prison work program on a field trip I had picked up some speed. There were about 10 inmates and two officers with shotguns keeping watch. The officers had some serious shotguns; the kind you use for duck hunting, so that you get good range on the shot. I just wondered what they used for ammo. All the inmates seemed nice enough in their orange jumpsuits and waved or nodded as I passed by. I suspected that they are non-violent criminals, or at least I hoped so. I truly believe that picking up trash is an effective use of their time.

Within an hour of riding I felt like my old self. The wind picked up from behind me a bit to help push me along. The roads were inconsistent for most of the morning. Normally I expect road conditions to change when entering towns, crossing a state line or entering a new county. Today though the conditions seemed to change every ten minutes. When I arrived in Hyde County, there was a sign telling me that the county is “The Road Less Traveled" While that aspect of the county appealed to me, what they didn’t mention was that the county was also where the roads weren’t as well maintained. It couldn’t compete with Texas, but there were consistent cracks in the road about every 20 feet, running perpendicular to my direction of travel. Thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk, thunk-thunk. It was doing a number on my back and posterior, not to mention what affect it was having on my bike.

For a 60-mile stretch of my day I was riding through a series of Wildlife Refuges. The road was almost entirely devoid of cars. I rode for 20 minutes before a car passed in my direction. Even after that there was only about one car every 10 minutes. It was much different from some of the busier roads upon which I have ridden, where I would have 1,000 cars pass in that same time. I was really enjoying my own personal bicycle nirvana. It was one of my favorite parts of the ride to date.

While riding through the Swan Quarter, Mattamuskeet and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuges I was kept company by hundreds of turtles. The turtles took up residence on the logs floating on the stagnant river that ran next to the road the entire afternoon. I spent quite a bit of time looking at the turtles. I got a kick out of them dropping off their log and into the water as I rode past. It is the little things that keep me amused during the day. A couple of times I found myself nearly riding off the road as I was observing my hard shell friends. I also had a beaver eye me down as I rode along. As far as terrestrial animals were concerned, there were two deer on the side of the road that freaked out upon my appearance and ran alongside the road with me until they were able to find a clearing in the woods to cut through. I pulled out my camera a few seconds late. They ran with me for a good ten seconds before diving into the brush.

The Wildlife Refuges were wetlands for the most part. With that, the road wound in every compass direction through the area that was most suitable to have a road built upon it. The road was slightly elevated and had water along one side or the other for the entire distance. I meandered through the woods, swamp and low brown grass waving in the wind. The straight-line distance of my trip for the day was 84 miles, but actually riding, it was 134.

Done ask me how the planning commission let this one pass, but smack dab in the middle of the Wildlife Refuges, is a military bombing range. There were jets flying overhead, but I didn’t evidence any actual bombing. I just found it a bit odd to put an area where they test destructive capability betwixt others where they are trying to preserve life.

In heading to the Outer Banks of North Carolina I had to ride over the Roanoke Island Bridge. The bridge was in good shape, other than the expansion gaps being rather wide and deep. I did the best I could to jump over them, but fortunately for me, that was the worst thing I had to endure on the bridge. From the apex of the bridge I was able to see the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in the distance. It didn’t come as a surprise, being that it is the tallest lighthouse in America at 208 feet.

As I usually do given the option, I stopped at a visitor center and spoke to a gentleman there. He mentioned to me that the bike riding in the Outer Banks is not very good as the roads are very narrow and there is a significant amount of traffic. I found the exact opposite to be true. There are two roads that run the length of the northern part of the Outer Banks. One is a highway of sorts and the other is a service road to get to the beachfront properties. The two roads are close enough that you could throw a rock between them, but both have room for bicycles. I was elated.

The northern part of the Outer Banks reminded me of a cross between Fire Island and Myrtle Beach. There were cars and lots of chain stores, but it still had a small town beach feel. There were many private homes right along the water. It was still early in the season, so many of the homes were shut tight. Several businesses had also not opened for the season. On the plus side, I was able to find a place to stay right on the ocean for an off-season rate. From my room all I had to do was walk over a sand dune to get to the Atlantic Ocean.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Riding Between Presidential Towns

I was late for work today. The magnetic pull of the soft cushy bed was too much to overcome. Having slept in nearly a thousand different beds in the last three years (no, I am not kidding), I would rank this one in the top 3%. It had a firm mattress with a cushy pillowtop and four pillows to sleep on and around. As my wakeup call didn’t come with a snooze button option, I just rolled over and caught an extra hour of sleep. Even then it was an effort to get out from under the covers.

I got started at 9:30, but as I don’t have to punch in and out for work everyday, it all worked out. I like being my own boss. I should really give myself a raise for all the hard work I have been doing. I can’t wait until bonus time! The biggest benefit of getting a late start was that it was 20 degrees warmer than when I set out yesterday.

The town of Jacksonville is inextricably entwined with Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corp base (Hey, a military outpost that does not belong to the Air Force). The town had a glut of barbershops to cater to the flattop and crew cut town. Just to reinforce that Jacksonville was a military town, I was constantly being passed by a number of military vehicles throughout the morning, mostly armor plated humvees. My biggest excitement in the military vain was seeing jets taking off. I don’t mean taking off as when they were already airborne, but when they left the tarmac. Those things take off hot. It is a completely different animal than a Cessna or a 747. The speed at which the jets take off is astounding. It was like trying to keep on eye on your buddy’s golf ball when he is hitting off the tee. They are fast.

Similar to the New Orleans area, hotel prices were driven up by a singular customer type. In this case it was visitors to the military base. All the parents/friends of the military personnel come to town to visit, which is evidenced by all the signs that are posted on the fencing surrounding the military base, "Welcome home Private So and So" There were dozens of signs attached to the chain link fence surrounding the base, flapping in the breeze

My left knee was hurting a bit in the morning and was hoping it wasn’t going to continue throughout the day. It was the same pain I had on my 2005 ride when I was nearing Chicago. In 2005, fortunately, the pain disappeared as quickly as it has come. There are many things about my 2005 ride I forget, but that pain in my knee is not among them. It had put thoughts in my head of having to potentially end my ride prematurely. As I had said back then, I would have rather have thrown myself in traffic than have to give up on the ride. Again, I am hoping it doesn’t come to that.

I knew my day of riding would take me through the Croatan National Forest, though I was a bit surprised when I saw a sign indicating that I was leaving the National Forest. I didn’t even realize I had entered it! There need to be some questions asked if I was riding right through he heart of a National Forest and scarcely knew that I was in what was supposed to be an area of natural distinction. I guess that is what I get for staying on a fairly major road. Then again, I tried getting off the main road in Ocala National Forest and wound up coming up on a dirt road.

As the day wore on I had the option to take a ferry across a river tributary. The roads leading to and from the ferry seemed to be out of the way, but more importantly, the route would take me completely around a large city. I had absolutely no interest in having to ride in and out of another large city, especially not when it would involve bridges entering and exiting. The ferry it was. I stopped at the police station to try and get confirmation as to whether the ferry was running, as it was ten miles out of the way. They officer on duty kept saying it was running, but I was able to convince them to call the ferry company directly to make sure. The ferry was running, but only every hour. I had to race the ten miles if I were to make the next one. There was virtually no traffic on the roads leading up to the ferry so even in my haste I found it to be a nice ride.

The ferry ride was so pleasant. It was a nice interlude in my day of riding. I got to sit on the top deck of the ferry and enjoy the view for once without exerting a significant amount of energy. It felt more like play than work.

When I got off the ferry the road was deserted. I was so relaxed and riding slowly along, trying to enjoy the isolation. I was able to swerve all over both lanes of the road without having to worry about being run down. The only thing that brought me back to reality is when I rode past Big Hill Road. Then I thought about it. In Colorado, Big Hill Road might have frightened me, but not in coastal Carolina.

I ended my day in Washington, NC. What is up with the president names? Last night Jacksonville, today Washington. I did a little research and North Carolina has a town or county named after the first seven US presidents. Van Buren ruined the whole thing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Back on the Bike

The temperature was somewhere in the mid 30’s to start the day. Cars parked on the street had ice covering all the windows. When I started off I was rather chilly. My fingers were tingling, my toes were cold (even with the plastic bags on my feet) and I had to sniffle or wipe my nose every thirty seconds else bear the consequences. It would be a day that would see me wearing my jacket for its entirety. By the time the temperature crept in to the mid 40’s though I was warm enough. Not warm, but warm enough.

I had grown comfortable and out of shape sitting around at my dads, so the mornings ride was an effort. I was also riding near the coast, so there was quite a bit of swirling wind. At times it felt as if I were riding through inches of mud; sometimes eight, sometimes two. My legs seemed to move in slow motion.

As I rode inland I was riding through a green tunnel. A swath was cut in the forest for the road to run through, but to either side were 40-foot pine trees growing straight up towards the sky. With the exception of the periodic dirt side road, the trees were undisturbed.

I caught the height of pollen season in North Carolina. A grainy green blanket covered everything that stood still for more than a few minutes: the road, cars, or my bike. At one point while riding my tires were completely green as they collected pollen off the road. When I stopped at to buy a drink I wanted to write a message with my finger on the hood of a car that was freshly coated in pollen. I figured that I acted enough like a child in the last few days coloring Easter eggs and having to borrow a collared shirt from my dad for Easter dinner.

The afternoon took me through the town of Wilmington, NC. It was just another case of having to ride through a city in heavy traffic. I wasn’t exactly sure which route I needed to take to get in to town, but I was almost certain that it wasn’t the one that made me cross two lanes of traffic where the Interstate began. It was better than the Interstate itself, so I opted for it. Getting across those two lanes was like playing a game of chicken. For some reason, drivers aren’t really patient when a bike tries to cross two lanes of traffic. I totally lucked out getting into town proper as one lane of the road was closed crossing over the open grate bridge and for the last half mile into Wilmington.

I had all the scenery I was going to get for the day in the morning. The afternoon saw me riding along the highway again. I was just happy that there was a shoulder on the highway, at least between towns anyway. In towns there just seems to be no place for a bicycle to ride other than in a lane of traffic.

By late afternoon the day was dragging on. It may not have been the best idea opting for a day of over 110 miles after having a five-day rest. My left knee was bothering me to some degree, but not to the point of concern. I was eager to get to a hotel and relax with the first day back on the bike behind me.

I ended my day in Jacksonville, North Carolina. I infinitely prefer staying in Jacksonville, NC than Jacksonville, FL. As the town is on the outskirts of a military base, there are men with closely cropped hair in the streets instead of women practicing the oldest profession. I had a large selection of hotels, but better yet, I came across a bike shop. I found out one of the reasons why I was struggling a bit during the day. My tires were inflated to 80 PSI as opposed to the 120 that they should have been. If you let a third of the air out of a basketball, it wouldn’t work very well. Neither did my tires. Again, there is no one to blame but myself.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

A Few Days Off

I planned on taking some time off to visit my Dad and Stepmom, so I had time to reflect on riding 232 miles. First off, I can’t possibly assume that I can do that on a regular basis. That would be a dangerous frame of mind. I am sure I could push myself harder physically, but again, part of the trip is to actually see the country. That being said, I certainly could have ridden further. How much further is the real question. Could I have done 350 or 400? What if I rode straight through the night and the next day? People have done it. It just leaves me with the unanswered question, how far could I have ridden?

I had lost six pounds since the start of my trip, but in the few days off, I put on seven. My father took up cooking as a hobby later in life and I was eating everything in sight. I figured I would burn it all off within a matter of days. It was the cocktails that really put me out of shape. I probably had a few too many of those in my time off. If I were ever to eat properly I might be amazed at the shape I could be in.

I didn’t do any significant riding in my time off, though I did take the bike out for a ride one day when I was feeling antsy. I only rode for half an hour, but it assured me the bike was running smoothly and got the cobwebs out. I will be riding again on the 25th in the direction of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Morning After

I woke up at seven feeling good. When I realized that I wasn’t riding I rolled over and slept in. When I got up at 9:30 I felt great. I wasn’t sore, no aches, no pains. The muscles felt good, my back was fine. It wasn’t like I wanted to ride another 232 miles, but I certainly could have gotten on the bike without any discomfort. I didn’t have a bicycle hangover

I spent over an hour cleaning my bike and after the time on the road it spent yesterday, it needed it. Everything was pretty much in good shape and ready to roll.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Clear Across South Carolina in 232.9 Miles

I was out on the road at 6:45 in the dark. My hotel was a half-mile from the entrance to the bridge, so I was right there to start my day. It was a warm morning, so fortunately there was no shivering. There were streetlights in town and along the Talmadge Bridge so disobeying the no-bicycles sign was a non-event. It wasn’t ideal, climbing the approximate 200 feet up the tallest bridge in Georgia to start my morning, but I could think of worse things. There was a wide shoulder along the bridge, which even allowed me to pause and look down on Savannah as I was riding away. The only issue on the bridge was riding over the expansion joints, but it is the same on most bridges, so I have that pretty much figured out.

As I came off the far side of the Talmadge Bridge, I saw a police car with its lights on just up ahead. I figured he was waiting for me, but no, he had pulled someone over. I rode past without the cop giving me a second glance. I was in South Carolina.

Once over the bridge I learned the real reason that bicycles weren’t supposed to be on the bridge: the approach road. The approach road was one narrow lane in each direction with no shoulder. Fortunately, traffic wasn’t bumper to bumper in my direction. My bigger problem was when no cars were coming at all as it was black as pitch and I couldn’t see a thing as there were no streetlights. I could have ridden off a cliff and I would have had no idea until I was plummeting to my ultimate demise. I again rode with the white-knuckle grip of death on the handlebars and waited for the sun to rise. I only had to ride for about 20 minutes longer in the dark before it was light enough for me to be able to see. Eventually I made it out of the danger zone and to the town of Hardeeville, SC.

I got lost for the first time of the day in Hardeeville. As I was hoping to have a big day, it was the last thing I wanted. It seems that South Carolina is doing so much work on its roads that new roads are cropping up and other road names are changing at a pace that maps cannot keep up with. With a little local help, I was able to find the route out of town on the roads which I had initially planned on taking, all under their new names.

As the morning wore on it was all business. I was in a lane of traffic for most of the morning. It makes for somewhat less that ideal conditions when I am constantly wondering if the driver behind me is paying attention. Or if the driver behind him can see me quickly enough to move out of the way. I would learn the hard way that South Carolina is not about to waste any of its road funding by building shoulders on roads.

The day warmed up quickly and I worked up a good sweat. I did the best I could at staying hydrated. I knew throughout the day I would have some long stretches without services, so I tried to keep my water bottles topped off. Sure the long stretches weren’t like what I went through out west, but I didn’t want to be caught without fluids with temperatures in the mid-80’s.

I was keeping a good pace and hit the 100-mile mark in 5 hours 39 minutes. Shortly after the hundred-mile mark I was nearing Charleston, SC. I saw a sign for a bike shop in a shopping center, so I pulled in to ask about the best route through town, as I had to take bridges to get both in and out of Charleston. I looked around the shopping center and for the life of me couldn’t find the bike shop. I spent almost 10 minutes looking for a bike shop that was seemingly non-existent. As I rode another few miles down the road I spied another bike shop and was given some great information from the guys there. They walked me though the directions to get in and out of Charleston, but warned me that once I was north of Charleston, I would be on busy roads and riding in traffic. The guys apologized for the lack of good riding roads in the area and sent me on my way.

I had wanted to check out Charleston, but as it is about 100 miles from where my father lives is South Carolina, I figured I could always drive down at some other point when I was visiting in the future. With that thought, I was able to justify to myself not stopping and having a look around.

On the north side of Charleston, in Francis Marion National Forest I had drained my water bottles. There was a house here or there where I could have asked for water, but I figured I would wait until I found a place to grab a sports drink. Around every bend I eagerly anticipated finding a convenience store. Finally I was rewarded with a well stocked shop. I loaded up on drinks and continued on.

While riding along I heard a clicking noise coming from my bike. It wasn’t the same noise that had previously been repaired. I began investigating the noise as I rode along, but couldn’t seem to find the source. I had narrowed it down to something with my tires. I stopped to check my front tire where I thought the noise was coming from, but couldn’t find anything wrong. I was going to ride on, but checked my back tire. There was a one-inch piece of rusty metal jabbed in my tire. The Kevlar in my tires did their job in protecting the tube. I pulled out the metal piece and rode on. I was quite glad as I really wasn’t in the mood to change a flat tire.

By mile 145 I was feeling a little tired. I had at least 22 miles to the next set of hotels. I knew my father was probably another 40 miles past that, so either I could stay in Georgetown, SC and have a short day the day following or I could just knock it off. There was rain in the forecast, but it had held off. I decided I would go for it.

It was typical Kevin. If I have it in my head to get someplace, I will do what it takes to get there. For example when I was hiking the Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary in Nepal I had a couple of days of hiking left, but I kept thinking about having a steak for dinner the following night. So I got up early the next morning and hiked some crazy distance through the Himalayas at a good clip, climbing massive mountains and having to avoid the Maoist Separatists just to get my steak. The steak was really good though.

I took a look down at my odometer, which showed me that I was 192 miles along. When I checked my time it looked as if I would ride the 200 miles in a little over 11 hours. As I really wanted to keep my time under 11 hours for 200 miles, I stepped up my speed. I used the drop bars (which my back generally never agrees with) and rode hard for the next 20 minutes to come in at 10 hours 58 minutes for the 200 miles. While I was psyched that I crossed the 200 mile mark, I was more proud of myself for bearing down and riding hard to keep my time under 11 hours. I rode the second hundred miles in 5 hours 19 minutes, 20 minutes less than the first hundred.

Darkness slowly creeped in, but I had a mostly full moon to help me out, at least until the clouds rolled in. By dark it seemed that Savannah, my starting point that morning, was hundreds of miles away. Perhaps because quite literally, it was.

I was able to work out a system where I would ride in the middle of the lane until a car approached from behind. As the light from the headlights grew stronger I would move over to the side of the road. A bigger problem was the oncoming traffic could not really see me as all I had on the front of my bike was a small reflector. There were several occasions where cars turned across the road in front of me, not knowing I was there. I had to lock up my tires on one occasion to avoid an 18-wheeler turning in front of me. After that I was far more cautious. I got a token streetlight every now and again, or some light from a residence or business, but for the most part I was in the dark.

By 9:00 the rain began. It started slowly and picked up. It was a relatively warm rain so I wasn't chilled to the bone. I kept calling my Dad & Stepmom to give updates as to where I was and when I projected getting to them. I rolled up to my fathers road...and kept riding past. He lives near enough to North Carolina that I wanted to continue on to the state line so that I could say I rode through the entire state of South Carolina in a day. The rain started getting heavy and I began shivering. I made it though. My ride was 232.9 miles. I put in some overtime and it was a pretty good day of work. It took me just shy of 13 hours to ride the 232 miles. In the future when I go to the gym it is going to seem rather pointless spending a half an hour on the stationary bike. I probably burned more than 10,000 colories on the day. I would have to eat 19 Big-Macs to replenish them. On the day I covered the distance from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, the distance from London to Paris, almost a third of the distance from New York to Chicago, 70% of the distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco and well, the distance from Savannah, GA to Calabash, North Carolina.

Obviously I was tired, but I was glad to see my Dad & Stepmom. I also knew that I had a few days off until after Easter. I gave the bike a quick wipe down to dry it off, wolfed down a couple of sandwiches enjoyed a beer and took a shower. It was my longest day ever.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Sight Seeing in Savannah

I slept in as best I could, which was nearly until 10. My body needed the rest. As I was leaving the hotel I saw a couple of guys with bikes on their roof in the parking lot, so I asked them if they knew anything about riding on the Talmadge Bridge out of town. They hadn’t ridden bikes over it, but they said the bridge itself should be OK as there is a shoulder, but once over the bridge it got a bit narrow. I went over the info center and posed the bicycle question about the Talmadge Bridge to the folks there. The guy said that he knew of no reason why I couldn’t ride over the bridge, but that didn't mean much to me. I never get a straight answer.

I decided to jump on a bus to take a tour of the city. The historic part of downtown is one mile by one mile, but on a day off, I didn’t really want to walk the whole thing. Plus, I wouldn’t get the commentary.

Savannah is a town that was planned around 24 town squares. 21 of the original 24 squares remain, though another one is in the process of being reclaimed. The squares are quite pleasant; though not nearly big enough to swing a cat, much less play Frisbee. There is Forsyth Park which has a section designed for just that purpose (playing Frisbee and other outdoor sports, not swinging a cat, although there is enough room to do so if you choose).

I was in Savannah at the right time of the year. Everything was beginning to bloom, leaving the many squares awash in color. I am not certain as to how botanically diverse Savannah is, but what was blooming made quite a visual impact.

Much like in New Orleans, wrought iron work is quite popular. It was a status symbol back in the day. Another interesting historical construction material is tabby. Tabby is similar to concrete, but in addition to sand a limestone, crushed oysters shells are mixed in. Several roads and numerous houses are made of the stuff. Many of the houses though have stucco over them, so the outward appearance isn’t that of tabby.

One other construction material unique to Savannah is grey brick. The brick, no longer manufactured, was made from clay taken from the Savannah River. The brick is slightly larger than a standard red brick today and had a varied color (despite being called grey). I was told that the brick sells for about 8 bucks a brick, so building a house, if you could even get the requisite number of bricks, would be an expensive proposition.

For you movie fans out there, Forrest Gump was filmed in Savannah. At least the parts where Gump is giving commentary sitting on the park bench. That bench sat in front of Chippewa Square. Forrest Gump or Tom Hanks fanatics hold on though, as the bench was only a prop for the movie and there is in actuality no such bench in front of the square.

Also on the celebrity list in Savannah is the chef Paula Dean. I had never heard of her, but was told over 1,000 people eat in her perpetually sold out restaurant on a daily basis.

Before I went back to my hotel for the evening, I took a quick trip to the Talmadge Bride to see for myself what was up. Sure enough, there was a “No Bicycles"sign right out front. I really wasn’t in the mood for a detour and the bridge didn’t look that bad, so I figured I would cross it. I would just get a really early start in teh morning.

My last thought for the day was that I hadn’t seen a Georgia Peachtree or even a single Georgia Peach in my entire time in the state.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Arrival in Savannah, Georgia

I started the morning nearly immediately on a Georgia Scenic Bypass. I had passed a number of plantations, including the Hofwyl Broadfield Plantation, that offered tours, but they all seemed to be closed in the morning.

I rode through the town of Ridgeville and the surrounding area, which has a number of homes listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Most of the places are privately owned and do not offer tours as they are private residences, so I just pedaled on past.

From the Scenic Bypass I took another Scenic Bypass, which got me completely off the main drag and into the real Georgia. It got me away from all traffic and into a less developed area. It seemed like an area though that might have a loose dog or two hanging around. While it turned out to be true, it was pretty much a non-event. I was really enjoying watching the numerous cardinals flying about.

Back on the main road I pedaled passed a gentleman walking along. I stopped to say hello, as he didn’t look like someone just out for a walk. The mans name was Andy, who also goes by Mr. Diabetes. Andy is and has been walking for diabetes awareness on and off since 2000. He was on his way to complete a lap around the United States. He had a support vehicle and was carrying a bunch of stuff, including: a taser, hammer and walking stick. He said he gets about two dogs a day that take exception to him and has used the taser, but not the hammer. He also says he has “something else" in the event he might need it, but I didn’t inquire as to what it might be. And here I am without so much as pepper spray.

The day wasn’t a particularly long one and moved along nicely. The last twenty miles of the day were the most difficult. The wind whipped up to try and push me around a bit, but I slowly pedaled on.

While Georgia did a great job on the bike route for the most part, 15 miles south of Savannah, they dropped the ball. The bike route was on a busy stretch of road with no shoulder. As I was close to the city, there were more options as far as roads were concerned so I was going to make my own call as to what my bike route was going to be. I made an end around and entered the city from the west. I knew I was a mile or two from the historic downtown area of Savannah and for the life of me I couldn’t imagine how an industrial area would transform to this beautiful downtown area that I heard so much about. The western area of downtown wasn’t very pleasant, but quickly improved.

I arrived in Savannah at four, so I decided to do my own bike tour before finding a hotel. Traffic was a non-issue riding though town. I just had to stay out of the way of all the tour trolleys. The town is picturesque. Many of the flowers were beginning to bloom and cover the many town squares in color. The streets are lined with Live Oaks draped in Spanish Moss (which is neither from Spain or moss for that matter).

It took me some time to find a place to stay, but eventually I settled on a hotel that was slightly less than ideal in that it wasn’t the newest on the block. It was right in the mix of the downtown area though and was a short distance from my route out of town.

I went out for a bite to eat and had some pasta. There was a girl sitting by herself at the restuarant as well and the moron that I am, didn’t say anything to her. She was just reading a book. After dinner I could have asked if she wanted to go grab a drink, but no, I am an idiot. I went out to a couple of places to have a few beers in celebration of St. Patrick, inasmuch as it was his day. Most places were loud and full, creating a lack of places to sit. I usually work on my laptop when out having dinner or a cocktail, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I made it an early night. There must not be an open container law in Savannah as people were walking all over the place with beers. I didn’t know whether it was just for St. Patrick’s Day or if it is a normal thing, but either way, good for them.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Day Off in Georgia

My day involved very little other than resting my muscles and catching up on the web site. I did some planning as to my route north. I would like to look around in Savannah, GA and spend a day in Charleston, SC, but I will probably end up staying a day in one or the other. My father lives right near Myrtle Beach, SC, so I was also planning to spend some time there as well. What kind of son would I be if I didn’t stop in?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Welcome to Georgia

I had planned on sleeping in as the wind was supposed to be at my back and I knew it wouldn’t get dark until after 7:30. I slept well, one of the advantages of sleeping in really nice bed. My ride wasn’t two minutes old when a car stopped in the middle of the street and a passenger jumped out on the curbside. I was nearly hit by the car door as the passenger opened the door to get out. It was just one of the many times I had to be alert to avoid being creamed. It was also then I realized that after cleaning my bike last night that I had put my front tire on backwards. It wasn’t my morning.

It was the first day of my ride since leaving California that felt like summer. I got started late, but it was instantly in the 70’s. The wind was highly variable; swirling for the most part. It made for a very labor-intensive ride: shift up, shift down, shift up, shift up, shift down. The bike was running smoothly after my cleaning it up last night.

On the route I had planned out I would avoid the city of Jacksonville, FL in its entirety. I had a feeling though that the bridge I wanted to cross wasn’t bike friendly. I lobbed a call to a bike shop in Jacksonville and confirmed my suspicion. They told me that I would have to come right through downtown Jacksonville to get over the river. While I had to go through the city, at least it was a Saturday and the traffic wouldn’t be that bad. While traffic did pick up as I neared Jacksonville, it wasn’t necessarily heavy. As I was riding though the city I got a peek of the bridge I had initially planned on riding over and it looked a bit dicey. I was glad I called the bike shop.

When I got to downtown Jacksonville I wanted to check my computerized map, but was a bit apprehensive about taking out my laptop as it didn’t look like the safest area. There was a young girl cursing at three older women going into the community center across the street. There was also a prostitute on the corner in broad daylight. ‘nuff said.

I ran out of water because I didn’t want to leave my bike anywhere by itself. It turned out that my intuition on the area was correct. It was confirmed when I stopped at a convenience store to grab a drink and use the bathroom. The owner of the place came over and said he would watch my bike. He told me that it would have surely been gone by the time I came out would he not tend it.

As I rode on I passed the North Jacksonville Anheuser Busch plant. I didn’t stop in for a tour, as it was already the cause of my late departure this morning. In the past I had visited the main Anheuser Busch headquarters in St. Louis, so I figured I was covered.

I arrived in the town of Kingston, Georgia to the main road being closed. There was no bridge that was out or construction going on. The road was closed for a car show. The entire main street was blocked off for a car show. As I was on my bike, I just sort of rolled though the roadblock. I had made it just in time for the judging. I wasn’t particularly interested in the winner, but I did check out the cars. There were an inordinate number of Corvettes; a car that I never really liked in any of its iterations. As I rode off, I heard the announcements: “Vee-hicle nummer twenny naahn".

Georgia did a great job on the bike route through the state. It was relatively scenic with just the right number of towns thrown in. It was isolated, but not deserted. The road was in good shape and there were bike signs all over the place. I had very little pressure from cars. The southern section of Georgia was also one of the nicer parts of the ride

When I arrived in the town of Brunswick, GA I thought about continuing on. I had an hour of daylight and 20 miles to the next collection of hotels north of where I was. As there was a good selection of places to stay, with any type of food I wanted to eat, I opted to stay in Brunswick and take a day off.

As a side note, thanks to all those people who dropped me a line to inquire about my well being in the wake of the storms and tornados in the area. It turned out that I was exactly a days ride south of the mess, so managed to avoid all of it.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Cold Rain and Historic St. Augustine

I got out by 9:00 and there was little going on for a Friday morning. It was another totally overcast morning with rain forecast for the evening. As soon as I left the hotel I was out of town. I didn’t have breakfast, so 15 minutes in, I stopped at a gas station for a sandwich and some breakfast ice cream.

Less than an hour into my day I was in the Daytona area. Daytona Beach may have all the spring breakers, but Daytona proper has all the skells, vagrants and ne’er-do-wells, or so it seemed (I consider myself more an itinerant than vagrant). I stood outside a Dunkin Donuts eating a late breakfast looking across the street at a pawnshop. Jewelry, electronics, tools, audio and they even buy gold. Gold did close at over $1,000 an ounce. I never really thought of a pawnshop as a legitimate secondary market for goods. I thought it was just a place the cops went to hit the proprietor up for information, as he was always in the know of criminal activity in the area. In thinking about it, the pawnshop is actually the precursor to Microlending, and area of Microfinance which is becoming more popular around the world. Microloans make funds available to people that need amounts smaller than what a bank would offer, or to those who wouldn't normally qualify for bank services. Microloans can be for as little as a couple of dollars. Sure, you might be able to find that in your sofa cushions, but to some people in other parts of the world, it is a significant sum. With a microloan though, the person doesn’t have to put their stereo receiver in hock.

I had the wind at my back for part of the day and thought I should make a run to Jacksonville, FL, despite wanting to stop in St. Augustine to check the town out. The bike trip was about challenging myself and seeing the country. I have been doing more of the challenging myself than seeing the country as of late. I had wanted to stop in St. Augustine even if it was only for an afternoon as it is rich in history, but it would leave me with only a 70-mile day riding. As I wanted to learn about the historical significance first hand, I decided that I should make St. Augustine my final destination for the day.

At 12:30 there was a light drizzle. Apparently the meteorologists were a little late in their call as to when the rain was going to get started. The rain wasn’t crazy, but it was enough to make me put on my jacket. When the rain picked up I just happened to be passing a convenience store, so I pulled in under the overhang to see if the rain would pass. I only had left 20 miles to St. Augustine, but the rain wasn’t letting up. I made a few phone calls to friends and a couple to check on hotels in St. Augustine. After nearly an hour, I decided that I was only wasting time sitting around. While I wasn’t looking forward to riding in the rain, the waiting was far worse than doing it. I got my cold weather gear on and pedaled.

Usually the worst part of riding in the rain is when my socks soak through. While I wasn’t thrilled that that did happen, what was worse in this instance was that I was riding so near the beach that there was fine sand coating the road. As I rode, my tires kicked up the sand into all the moving parts on my bike. Within a couple of miles, my bike wasn’t running nearly as smooth as it should.

I took the route along the beach to get into St. Augustine and stopped at the lighthouse to have a look. I went though the exhibits in the museum, but opted out of climbing up the lighthouse. I am usually the first person to climb up pretty much anything, but as it was raining and overcast, I wasn’t sure I would be able to see much from up there.

I went right to the visitor info center to see what was up in town. The guy there told me that hotel rooms are in short supply as it was a Friday for one, and second, it was the Friday that would start the school Easter break. I, if anyone, understand supply and demand. Also, as I only had an afternoon in St. Augustine, staying outside of town wasn’t an option. Hotel points to the rescue. I found a place right across the street from Castillo de San Marcos; probably the most visited sight in St. Augustine.

I had to clean up my bike at least a little before I went to check out town. The front desk gave me a brand new towel to clean my bike, despite my telling them it would be the end of the towel. I gave my bike a hurried wipe down, as I wanted to get out in town. The towel was filthy after even a cursory wipe down. After doing a marginal job of cleaning my bike, I did likewise on myself and went to check out town.

I started at Castillo de San Marcos, which is a fort that was built in town, or rather, the town sprung up around it. The most interesting fact of the fort was that it was never taken in battle despite numerous battles being fought there. From the Castillo, I walked down St. George Street, which is a pedestrian street, choc-bloc with shops of all sorts. The first thing I came across was a guy soliciting people to come in his establishment for 2 for 1 drinks and pizza. I wanted to amble through town, but assured my new friend that I would most certainly be back. St George Street reminded me of so many pedestrian streets in Europe, probably most like VĂ¡ci Utca in Budapest thought not quite so upscale.

I walked around St. Augustine for a couple of hours trying as best I could in such a short time to take it in. There was no way I could see even a fraction of all the things there are to see in that time, but it was time well spent getting a feel for the city. I didn’t want to be made a liar, so I went back for beers and pizza. I caught the waning minutes of happy hour, so missed the pizza, but ordered one. Another large pie down. I made some friends sitting at the bar and it was quite a diverse crew. There was some talk about joining a haunted pub-crawl, which I thought was the greatest idea ever at the time. Something inside me though said that, no, in fact, it was not a very good idea at all.

I went back to my hotel and spent a tipsy hour cleaning my bike and trying to come up with a route out of town for the following morning.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Run to the Atlantic Coast

I got on the road only slightly later than planned and started my ride through the Ocala National Forest. I started the day sans my leg warmers and was a bit chilly, but when I caught a piece of the sun it warmed up quickly and was just glorious. I quickly realized what I had been missing in the last couple of weeks of the ride and that was some atmosphere. With the one 60-mile exception south of Panama City, I had been riding on fairly major roads and there was no ambiance to my rides. I was just pedaling alongside traffic. When there are some pleasant trees and birds chirping I tend not to notice things such as a headwind, or if the road is in rough shape.

I had written out a lengthy and complex set of directions for the day that would take me to the coast. Before I had ridden even five miles, the directions were rendered useless, as one of the roads I had planned on taking was not paved. I was so glad that I spent half an hour to write all that out. I had to backtrack a bit and found a route through the forest that kept me off the main thoroughfare for the most part.

The first 20 miles zipped on by. Not as the past few days because I was really turning the cranks to make some time, but because I was just enjoying the scenery in the forest, scanning for wildlife. I had to periodically move over to let a car pass, but as it was fewer than half a dozen times I really didn’t mind.

I was riding without directions for the most part. I had my laptop map but I hate taking it out when I am riding. I was less concerned where I was riding, but rather was trying to follow quiet, well-paved roads. There was one stretch where I was riding southwest, in the exact opposite direction that I needed to go.

I rode through several different areas that had the most fragrant flowers. They smelled so amazingly splendid. I was pretty sure that they were orange blossoms, but was a little shy about asking anyone. What would a person think when some dude walked up to them wearing spandex asking about orange blossoms?

Later in the day I again found myself riding southwest again. It was my own fault as I listened to someone else’s directions. I should have looked for myself. I like traveling by myself as I have the freedom do to what I want when I want to do it, but I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off of, or to stop me when I am about to head in the wrong direction. I still like taking responsibility for my own decisions. If I am going to bet on someone, I might as well make it me. The thing was that I ended up exactly where I didn’t want to be. I was a bit annoyed as I was hoping to get to the ocean at a decent hour. It was hard to be that annoyed about adding 15 miles to my ride for the day with the unplanned detours. While it added 15% on to my mileage for day, I just rode from the other side of the country and I was almost at the Atlantic Ocean.

In the afternoon I knocked off a big chunk of miles. I rode for an hour and a half without even thinking about it. It was the first hot day in some time and I was feeling the effects. I grabbed an ice cream after a bit. I was sluggish and tired. I was tired to the point where I almost fell asleep on the bike again. One day that is going to get me. There has been a lot of adversity on this trip lately, but I am trying to just pedal on through it.

When I saw a sign for New Smyrna Beach just 29 miles hence, I was fired up. I could ride 29 miles in my sleep I thought, and I almost did. After 15 miles though, I was out of gas. It was the usual back, shoulders and arms.

Eventually I made it to New Smyrna Beach and still had to run to the coast. I took the bridge over the Intercoastal Waterway and there it was, my first view of the Atlantic Ocean in since flying from New York to Los Angeles. I rode over the bridge and with the fading sunlight glinting on the water I had made it to the Atlantic Ocean. I rode to the beach and literally rode my bike right on to the sand (which probably wasn’t the smartest idea). There was even a couple there that took a photo for me. Sure the picture could be with any body of water in the background, but it’s the Atlantic Ocean.

My plan when I arrived at the ocean was to grab a beer at some beach bar, watch the ocean and reflect on what had transpired in my getting there. It figured that I had chosen the only residential area on the eastern seaboard without a nearby bar. I wasn’t too hung up on celebrating as I still had a long way back to New York.

For dinner I bucked the trend and rode my bike about ¾ of a mile down the road. I had some mediocre lasagna and the worst service, but it did end with me going to Dairy Queen for a bucket of ice cream. The whole time I ate dinner I nervously watched my bike out the window. It was the first time I was concerned about my bike on the trip.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Bike Repair...Finally!!!

What a difference seven hours of sleep makes! I got up feeling good despite it being dark outside. The miles just peeled away. I wanted to get two hours under my belt before I stopped, but after an hour I had to stop to take off my jacket and have a snack. The wind was supposed to be at my back the entire day, but I found the wind swirling quite a bit. Why is it that when the wind is supposed to be in my face, it is. I never get a surprise tail wind. At one point I was so unbelievably frustrated by the wind. How could the local news as well as the weather channel get it so completely wrong? I cursed out loud.

As I rode past a couple of deer on the side of the road I scared them off. Its funny that so many animals could care less if a car comes by, but when a bicycle passes them, they freak out and run away. Cows seem largely indifferent to my passing by, though every now and again one will run off. I elicit a completely different response from dogs, but I won’t go there.

In the morning I called a bike shop in Ocala, FL to see if they were actually open. They closed at six, but said to bring the bike in if I could make the 110 miles before then. I was really planning on heading further south before crossing my way over the peninsula to the east coast of Florida, but getting my bike fixed had to take precedence. It was one of the reasons that I was so angry about the swirling wind. I had someplace to be and had to be there before six.

I rode over the Suwannee River, immortalized in song by Stephen Foster (and by the piano stylings of Ed Norton). I am not sure what area of the river inspired Stephen Foster, but I was pretty sure it wasn’t where Route 27 crossed it. For those of you not familiar with Foster’s work, he also composed Camptown Races and Oh! Susanna, back in the mid-1800’s.

I started seeing signs for Orlando. I really didn’t want to get into any Orlando traffic, though I kind of wanted to go to Disney, ride Space Mountain and hit up the Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. I tend to think though that a single adult male hanging around Tomorrowland would draw the attention and ire of security. I had already been to Disneyland in Orlando as well as the Disney outposts in Paris and Hong Kong, but I was with a female companion in all cases, so security had no reason to be circumspect.

In the afternoon the wind was consistently behind me. It was a good thing, if I was planning to make it to the bike shop before they closed. I also couldn’t roll in at five minutes to six and think they would take a look at my bike. I was riding hard and my body was feeling it. My back was hurting in a completely new location. At least my spine mixes it up.

On any given day I probably ride past 50 roads/buildings/parks, etc., named after people. I think it should be required that if something is named after someone, there should be a small description as to what the person had accomplished in their life so as to merit having something named after them. It would keep me from saying “I wonder who that guy was?", several dozen times a day.

I made it to the bike shop at four. The guy checked out my bike and pulled the cranks and bottom bracket. He found a few odd threads or some other business in there that didn’t belong. He lubed it up, put it back together and it was running smooth. Unfortunately though he also adjusted my derailleur. It had taken me 2,500 miles to get it where I wanted it, so I had to fix that again. I noticed that one of the cogs on my cassette was a bit worn, but not to the point that I had to do anything about it. It just wasn’t running as smooth as the other cogs. After the ride I will have to replace the cassette along with the brake pads, tires and possibly other things.

I rode another ten miles on the day just to be sure that the bike was going to continue running smoothly. It was a pleasure to listen to, or rather not hear odd noises coming from the bike.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Across the Florida Panhandle

I had stayed in the town of Apalachicola, FL, which is rich in history. The area was known for cotton before it moved into the industries of timber and oysters. The area is said to supply ten percent of all oysters harvested in the United States.

I was planning on waking up at six and getting an early start as it was supposed to rain late in the day. In the last 36 hours though I lost two hours of my life. I lost one hour due to day light savings time and another when I made it to the Eastern Time Zone the prior day. I was getting jet lag...on a bicycle. So when I wanted to get up at six, my body thought it was four. As sunrise wasn’t until at 8AM, I slept in until 6:30. I was never a fan of getting up when it was dark outside. It took me 45 minutes to eat breakfast at the cafe next to the motel, so I gave the sun a chance to wake up.

The day started by crossing a 3-mile bridge. It gave me a good look back on Apalachicola, but exposed me to the wind. I felt so sluggish starting the day. My legs felt like lead and I couldn’t get comfortable in the saddle; something that wouldn’t change until mile 80. While the previous morning zipped along, this one crawled. I felt as if I was making zero time.

There were some areas on the road where there was no shoulder and within five minutes I had two truck drivers who went out of their way to anger me. The first was an 18-wheeler that tried to share the lane with me, despite having a passing lane available for its use. After gesticulating at him I have a feeling he radioed his buddy a couple miles back who decided to come up right behind me and blast his horn. It is supremely frustrating. I would lose a battle with a truck every time, so I don’t take a chance with the idiots out there. I am powerless and that is something I have a hard time accepting. If any of the trucks so much as glanced me though I would dial 911 to report them immediately, but absent that, I have no recourse.

The day was in the low 60’s, overcast and humid. I didn’t really sweat, but rather had cold clammy skin. Rain was in the forecast for later in the day, I was just hoping to beat it to a hotel.

I stopped for a sit down lunch to try and mix things up. I just felt so sluggish. My first course of action when I don’t feel great on the bike is to eat. Unfortunately though, the lunch didn’t help. Next, I tried to increase my cadence a bit. I pedaled about 100 rpm, which was of marginal assistance. I was able to get in a bit of a rhythm though. My motivation for not stopping to rest was that whenever I did, I was promptly set upon by small black flies.

I saw a mileage sign for the town of Perry, FL. I rode for another 20 minutes and saw a second sign. The second sign gave a distance that was further than the original one! Either I missed the shortcut turn off or I was riding in the direction of town yet somehow getting farther away. This could either have been an episode of the Twilight Zone, or I had been killed and was in hell.

I rode past the St. Marks National Wildlife refuge and then over the Wakulla River. There was a guy fishing off the bridge and a handful of people in canoes paddling along. I would have loved to take a break for an hour and either fished or paddled. I was considering it, but with the rain looming, I would get less satisfaction fishing or canoeing than the misery I would avoid by being caught in a cold rain. I pedaled on.

At one point I was riding with my head down to try and make myself more aerodynamic. It is something I do on good roads with little traffic. I scan the road ahead for any obstacles, put my head down and use the white line as a guide as I ride for a hundred feet or so before peeking up again. I must have been awfully tired as when I had my head down I think I fell asleep. It was like when someone falls asleep on the couch while watching TV, their neck muscles relax and when their head tips over they wake up. In my case I hit a rock on the road and was jolted wide-awake. It would happen one other time before I finally shook off my fatigue.

I found some energy for the last 30 miles. I got more comfortable in the saddle and kept pedaling. Birds of prey swirled overhead. I tried to observe them, but couldn’t take my eyes off the road. It is also not very comfortable to crane my head up while hunched over my bike.

As I rode along throughout the day I had been seeing billboards for an Inn and buffet in the town of Perry. I had been planning to stay in Perry so figured I would check it out. While I am normally not a buffet guy, it was hard to resist all the food I could cram in my gullet for $6.99. Had I made it an hour earlier I could have caught the early bird for $4.99. It almost wasn’t fair. By the time I was done, there were seven or eight plates sitting around my table. There was some whispering by the other patrons, which I think were discussions about me doing some damage to the buffet. I ended dinner with three pieces of chocolate cake. All the time I was eating, the rain was coming down outside. I had beaten the rain.

As I ate I overheard some of the local folks shares their tales of woe: how one needs an operation and they have no insurance, another of how termites were eating their house and they couldn’t afford to pay an exterminator. It just seemed that there was so much misfortune setting upon the people in the area. It made me wonder if misfortune begets misfortune? It was truly depressing and was just another thing that made me realize just how fortunate I am in that I can afford things such as health insurance. Things couldn’t be that bad when my biggest problem for the day was that I couldn’t find a bike shop.

Monday, March 10, 2008

An Enjoyable Day on the Bike

When I first woke up and looked out my window in the morning I saw a couple of cars pass by every minute, so I figured it would be a light day of traffic. When I set out though, the road was packed. There was room for me to ride and the cars pulled me along with their draft, so I didn’t mind the traffic.

Destin, FL was ten miles away and I was there in no time. I was thinking that I should have stayed in Destin on my day off as there was far more going on. Destin is known as the "Luckiest Fishing Village" Had I taken my day off there I might have gone fishing instead of getting some things done.

My bike was making more noise than it had been previously. Worse than possibly doing further damage to my bike was that I had to listen to the thing clicking every time I turned the cranks. It was like driving around in a car all day with the blinker on. I was able to periodically tune it out, but I knew it was there.

It was two hours before I stopped for a rest and checked my mileage. I knocked off a little over 30 miles without even thinking about it, despite a light wind blowing against me. I love when it works like that. I snuck off the road to use the rest room and when I did so I noticed three cyclists going past in my direction with bikes outfitted very similar to mine. I thought perhaps they might be cross-country riders, so I hurried to catch up.

I couldn’t see the trio when I set off, so I pedaled on. Before long I caught them in my sight and slowly reeled them in. They had stopped on the side of the road, so I went over o say hello. They weren’t cross country riders, but a group in their 60’s and 70’s from Montreal that spend the winter in Destin. They enjoy riding and periodically ride from Destin to Panama City Beach and back. I got to use a bit of what’s left of my French as we chatted for a few minutes.

I passed through Panama City, where I thought I might be able to find a bike shop. I found a great bike shop and again a dealer of my brand of bike. There was only one problem; this bike shop was closed on Mondays! The noise from my cranks was really starting to get on my nerves. I hate when my bike makes any ancillary noise.

I rode past Tyndall Air Force Base. I keep passing Air Force Bases. Why don’t I pass any bases for other branches of the military? I would be glad to listen to anyone’s suggestions on that. There were a number of fighters taking off in groups of three. Those things can make some real noise. I would love to ride in a fighter, though I am not sure the government would be apt to let me do so.

The riding in Florida has been fantastic. There are signs announcing that cars should shares the road with bikes, the roads are smooth as glass and for the most part there is a wide shoulder and/or bike lane. When I had spoken to a ranger in the Gulf Islands National Seashore visitor center, he mentioned that Florida is trying to be even more bike-friendly going forward. It could possibly the most bike friendly state through which I have passed. It didn’t hurt that the temperature was in the upper 60’s. It was nice to ride in just my shorts and bike jersey.

South of Panama City, in the area along Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe, is what I imagine the coastline looked like in the Gulfport/Biloxi, Mississippi area before Hurricane Katrina. There were beach houses all along the far side of the shore. Real estate on the gulf coast is a fraction of the cost than on the Atlantic coast and outside of wave sports, all else is pretty much the same.

Around mile 95 my body started revolting. My back started hurting and my legs grew heavy. I stopped at a little shop to take an ice cream break. I looked out over the Gulf and enjoyed the view of the sun shimmering on the water. The day continued on as the road turned inland. The wind was calm and there was very little traffic as I rode through a Cypress/Pine forest. I had spent so much time in and around cities that it was nice to get away from all of that noise and congestion. The ride south of Panama City was so delightful. The ride had been all business for the last week that I almost forgot to stop, look around and enjoy myself. While not an easy day, it was an enjoyable one.

In the evening, my buddy Steve called to get an update on my ride. One of his questions was, “Are you having fun?" What a good day for him to ask. Had he called a couple of days prior, I might have had a different answer. This ride is far more difficult than my 2005 ride as I am spending longer on the bike and trying to document the trip more thoroughly. It’s hard to sit at the computer after a long day on the bike and write in any coherent fashion. The last 60 miles of my day though were a delight. I would be glad to have those 60 miles as a Sunday ride in my neighborhood.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Attempted Bike Repair

I took the day off in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. I was going to go for a couple more days as I wasn’t really ready to give my legs a rest yet, but my bike is making some funny noises that I don’t have the tools to fix, so I have to have someone look at it. I probably should have done my homework the day before though, as the bike shop in Fort Walton Beach is closed on Sundays. What bike shop closes on a Sunday? Isn’t the weekend when they do the majority of their business? Especially in a beach town where everyone comes in for the weekend. I wasn’t about to ride anywhere starting at noon, so I figured I would lay low and try and get the website updated.

I had a few more questions:

What do you usually eat?

My diet is probably not the best for what I am doing, but it was worked for the last several thousand miles. Generally I try to stay at a hotel/motel with a free breakfast, though that is more to save time in the mornings. Usually I will have a couple bowls of cereal, a few muffins & donuts, two or three bananas and an English muffin or bagel if they are on offer.

I constantly eat throughout the day. I usually bring a few energy bars along with me and eat about every hour. I don’t necessarily have lunch, but if I am passing through a town, I may stop at a Subway, eat half of a sandwich and take the other half for later. I have eaten far more pre-packaged gas station sandwiches than I ever would have cared to. The one vice I have when I am on the bike is ice cream. I usually wait until the end of the day to attack a pint or two, but oftentimes I find myself having some during the day. It is refreshing on those warm days.

Dinner is my big meal. I eat anything and everything. I generally won’t get on the bike to go find dinner, so it is generally limited to what is in walking distance. In some of the small desert towns in Arizona and New Mexico, selection was so limited that I wasn’t getting nearly the nutrition that I should have. In larger towns and in those instances where there is nothing in the immediate vicinity I will order a large pizza and have no trouble eating the whole thing. The problem with my 2005 trip was that when I was finished, I had to exercise restraint on what I would eat. It was just such a habit to gorge myself despite not burning nearly the same number of calories.

Why are you doing this?

Many reasons really. From the days when my father would take my brother and I camping each year for a week in the Catskill Mountains, I have always loved the outdoors. As with anything I do: work, play, love, I have to do it as hard as I possibly can. So instead of a bike ride I wanted to ride across the US. Hiking? Why just go for day hikes when I can spend a few continuous months out on the Appalachian Trail. Kayaking? I don’t know many people who have kayaked from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, so why not?

I have an opportunity in my life now where I have the time and resources to do these things. I don’t have a family or anything in particular pinning me to one location. This time in my life will be fleeting and if I am going to undertake these adventures, now is the time. Not to mention that I am getting older and every day brings me another day past my peak age for engaging in these types of activities. My brain says I am 21, but my drivers license says otherwise.

Also, doing these trips are a way of not only seeing, but experiencing the country. Traveling under my own power puts me at the mercy of the elements and makes me vulnerable. It forces me to stop in places and interact with people that I would normally have no exposure to. Anyone can get in their car and go visit a National Forest, but why not pedal through on a bicycle? Why not see areas of the country that aren’t frequented by thousands of people? I wanted to speak to people from other walks of life and those who have grown up differently and experienced different things. People tend to get wrapped up in their own lives that they don’t get to see what else is out there; good or bad.

Lastly, in the past three years I had seen more of other countries than my own. Following the 2005 bike ride, I left the bike behind and continued on to visit over 40 countries before setting off on this ride. I love international travel as the experiences are so different than domestic travel, but there are many great things in this country as well and I want to take them all in.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Four States in Two Days

I slept in and took advantage of the free breakfast. I gorged myself to the point that would have sated the appetite of a medium size elephant. After the previous days ride, I was quite hungry. I’m not exactly sure how many calories I burned in riding nearly 150 miles, but I figured it was more than the average 2,500.

I botched the planning aspect of my departure from Mobile. I knew that I had to cross a bridge to continue east, as I was not permitted to ride in the tunnel heading that direction out of town. In my haste to plan the route, I didn’t realize that on my map I was looking at two tunnels next to one another and not a tunnel and a bridge. The Cochran Bridge, which I needed to take was five miles north of town.

I asked directions to get to the bridge and the route put me on the Interstate. If I was going to disobey traffic laws I would prefer to break those that don’t make me ride nine miles out of my way. I rode nine miles to get back to the point where I was, just on the other side of the tunnel not a half a mile away. I could see me hotel. If I ever pass through Mobile on a bicycle again, I will use the tunnel.

From the Cochran Bridge I got a good view of the USS Alabama battleship that is docked in Mobile. Mobile doesn’t have the most impressive skyline on the planet, but the downtown area does have a few modern buildings.

Getting out of Mobile wasn’t the easiest task I had ever undertaken, but once east of the city it was a cyclists dream. Not only were the roads in great shape, other than some debris on the road, but there were actually bike route signs. One sign even pointed out the direction to Florida. Best of all I got a push from the wind on my way east.

I thought it was going to be an easy day with the wind pushing me along for 100 miles. How wrong I would be. As I got east of Mobile, there were big hills all over the place. It wasn’t like riding through the Rockies, but mentally I wasn’t prepared for hills. With every climb I was cursing myself for having had those three extra muffins after I thought I was done eating breakfast. It was a bit surreal as I was in a legitimate pine forest after weeks of desert. The trees were blocking out some of the tailwind that I had waited so many days for, but I was just happy to see an actual forest.

I was supremely happy with the roads in Alabama. I just can’t figure out why they put rumble strips in the middle of the shoulder. Pick a side. At times the rumble strips left me with six-inch path on which to ride. The worst part was that on the skinny shoulder I had to dodge a cat and a rabbit, but being that they were both dead, it was no large task.

I made it unceremoniously to Florida. It was my fourth state in 48 hours. Even if I get run down by a truck tomorrow at least it could be said at my funeral that I had ridden a bicycle from California to Florida.

I was planning on staying as far south as possible along the coast. I took the bridge south from Pensacola to the Gulf Island National Seashore. There was another bridge that could have taken me farther south leaving me riding along the Gulf Coast, but the road was washed out in Hurricane Ivan and had not yet been entirely repaired.

The last 35 miles for the day were along a straight stretch of road that fed all the beach communities of the gulf islands. The wind was still behind me, giving me a hand. I was in the low 20 MPH range without pushing it too hard. Traffic was really heavy or so I thought for a 50-degree day in the late afternoon on a Saturday.

My bike had been making some funny noise since leaving New Orleans and it was at the point where I needed to have it looked at. I didn’t have the tools to take apart the cranks myself, so I was at the mercy of finding a bike shop. I lucked out in finding one late in the day, but was told that they didn’t have time to look at my bike. They did however tell me that in the town in which I was planning to stay, there was a legitimate bike shop and even a dealer for my brand of bike. It sounded to me like a day off to get the bike fixed.

It wasn’t a 150-mile day, but I hit the triple digits without much difficulty. I was in a small beach town on the Gulf with nary a hint of spring breakers. As I was going to take the following day off, I went out for a nice meal and a bottle of wine. I ended up spending more on dinner than my accommodations for the night.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Three States in a Day

I got an early start so as to try and beat traffic over the bridge on which I would have to detour. I was rolling at 6:30 and it was totally overcast. A thunderstorm had come through last night, but it wasn’t raining when I set out. I lucked out, as the high for the day would be in the low 50’s. Being wet that early in the day would be somewhat less than pleasant.

I made my way out of town and traffic was heavier than I would have guessed for being that early; but then again, traffic in or out of New York City is brisk at any time of the day. I made the turn off the main road for the bridge detour, though I did notice a few cars heading straight on. I figured it was local traffic.

The detour was an addition of about 10 miles, but the issue wasn’t the distance, but rather that it wasn’t a particularly safe route. It was a narrow two-lane road with no shoulder and heavily used. The road itself was 10 miles, of which five was a bridge. While traffic wasn’t as bad as I had prepared myself for, my heart started pumping faster when I heard big trucks approaching from behind me. The trucks knew that both they and I couldn’t share a lane when traffic was approaching from the other direction. A few cars passing me from behind however, thought it was OK. As they made the wrong decision to when they should pass me while traffic was coming from the other direction, I would take away that option and ride in the middle of the lane when cars were behind me, until in my opinion it was safe for them to pass.

I rode through the Bayou Sauvage National Wildlife Refuge on my detour. I scared up a number of waterfowl as I rode along, but couldn’t spare the concentration to observe what species they were. Some areas would have been great to photograph on any other day, but as there was no place to pull over and the sky a uniform color of grey, I opted out.

I also rode through the area of Irish Bayou. The place was mostly destroyed during Hurricane Katrina and there was lots of debris to prove that. Some of the places were being rebuilt and on thick, tall pilings. I stopped at the convenience store to grab some energy bars and I asked the girl working there if she knew if the main bridge had been opened. She conferred with her co-worker and collectively they decided that they thought it was open. I had already gone four miles out of my way, so I wasn’t going to backtrack for an “I think so". Outside the convenience store was a small camp of sleeping bags. I didn’t want to think about who or why people were sleeping there, though I am pretty sure I know the answer.

I pedaled out of town and on to the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. If ever I was thankful that the wind wasn’t blasting me in the face, it was on this bridge, as it was really exposed as the elements. The bridge itself did have a small shoulder, but the shoulder was completely covered in debris and had drainage grates every hundred feet or so. I was fortunate as most traffic was heading in the opposite direction to New Orleans. Most cars going my direction cut me some slack. In the instances when I heard trucks coming up on me, I would slow to a crawl and tuck on to the small garbage strewn shoulder. I had to repeat that technique at least a half a dozen times. Only one driver was unhappy, or at least he was the only one that made his displeasure known. He gave a long honk and then flew the one-fingered flag. If I needed a reminder to be careful, there was one section of the bridge railing which had been hit by a car, blowing the thing apart. The section of railing was replaced by a low metal guardrail, allowing me to see right off the bridge down into the lake. All in all, it wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. Better to expect the worst and be pleasantly surprised.

As I rode along, I thought about how any major change brings about opportunity. Specifically, how Hurricane Katrina created an opportunity for new businesses in the area. What set off my pattern of thought was an appliance store. It was the only one I had seen. Whoever got in early and took the risk of getting a business going had the chance to make a bundle. Before I get angry e-mails about taking advantage of the misfortune of others, it’s not that at all. I said nothing about encouraging price gouging. It is all about a person opening a business where there is a need. Supply and demand. The business would face significant risk and would have to be sufficiently compensated to assume that risk. Throw all the insurance companies into the mix and that adds a whole new level of complexity.

By 9:00 there was a steady rainfall though it was nothing more than a minor annoyance at the time. If it were to keep up for the rest of the day, I would probably end up getting pretty cold, but I had to wait and see. About that same time, there was a really nice stretch of road that was completely devoid of traffic and super quiet. All I could hear was my bike on the road and the sound of the rain hitting the foliage around me.

I took a little break when I hit the Mississippi state line. The rain had stopped and I was a happy camper. My first stop in Mississippi was in the town of Waveland. I spoke to a guy there that was almost certain that the original bridge was open, and it would have been a lovely ride. Too late now.

I would like to take a minute thank the Mississippi Department of Transportation, the bridge architects or whoever came up with the idea to put a bike lane on the St Louis Bay Bridge. The bike lane was eight feet wide, made of fairly smooth concrete and clean. Mississippi is very conscious of bicycles in their planning of roads. It seemed that all the roads/bridges had room for bicycles. Louisiana could have learned a lesson from Mississippi.

In the area of Pass Christensen, MS, the destruction from Hurricane Katrina was clearly visible. There were areas of downed trees, shells of houses and remnants of fishing piers. I had seen the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami in Southern India and Sri Lanka and it looked quite similar. Some of those areas in Asia were built back up more quickly than the Gulf Coast. I guess I thought in the US everything would have been back up and running in no time. It goes to show just how severe the damage was. Its one thing when you hear about an area being decimated or see it in photographs, but when you see with your own eyes, it has much more of an impact and puts things in perspective as to the damage done: physically, emotionally and financially.

I called a bike shop in Mobile to see if they knew about a bike route through Alabama. He, like my friends at the bike shop back in New Orleans said that heading south to Dauphin Island was scenic ride. The problem was that it would involve another ferry. I called the ferry company to check the details and they mentioned that the ferry only runs every hour and a half and takes 45 minutes. They also mentioned that with the storm coming in, the ferry might not be running the following day. I didn’t want to chance riding the 40 miles to Dauphin Island and be stuck with a 40-mile ride back or a 200-dollar hotel bill for the night, after riding only 40 miles for the day.

The areas of Gulfport and Biloxi were complete construction zones. I really wasn’t making any time through the area, as there were far too many traffic lights. In the afternoon though, the wind picked up and was at my back. How long I had waited for that. I knocked off the state of Mississippi in an afternoon. When I hit Alabama I hit a few rolling hills. They weren’t anything severe and it was a nice change of scenery. There was however no “Welcome to Alabama" sign.

I had the opportunity to finish the day at several points in Alabama, but for some reason I wanted to end the day in Mobile. It started raining and it was dark by 5:30, not to mention that it was rush hour, but I had my mind set on getting to Mobile; a 150 mile day on the bike. I figured that it couldn’t be any more dangerous than riding over the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge in the morning. Fortunately, most of the traffic was leaving Mobile. I had caught the traffic the right way on both ends of my day.

I was really focused on the last 20 miles of the day, so I didn’t have time to contemplate whether I was cold, tired or otherwise. I just kept turning the cranks, dodging traffic and wiping the rain from my face until I was in downtown Mobile. It took a little bit of searching to find a place to stay, but after nearly 150 miles riding for the day I paid up for a decent hotel.

Once I got to my hotel I went through the usually routine, got cleaned up and did what anyone would do after riding about 150 miles...go out for a couple beers. I figured I should sample some of the Mobile nightlife. It seems like a late night town, a commitment I wasn’t willing to make, so I had a few beers with dinner and wandered around the downtown area until I retired for a well-earned night of sleep.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

New Orleans

My day didn’t start all that well as the first several miles of road out of town was being redone. It had been stripped but not yet repaved. It made for a slow bumpy ride. Further on, one lane of a bridge was closed as well. It actually worked out as I tagged along after a group of cars went over.

I rode along a series of shipyards to start the day. For several weeks prior as I rode through the west, I was following the rail route. The game had now changed as it was about water transportation. Barges coming down the Mississippi, container ships being loaded up and sent off to who knows where? You may not think about how those kids’s toys or your new plasma TV made its way over from China, but chances are it came over in a shipping container. The standardization of freight containers was a huge leap forward for cargo transport. Containers from anywhere in the world can be moved from ship to train to truck. When standards were finally set, transport costs were slashed and it’s the reason that we are able to purchase so many foreign products cheaply. Having cheap labor is one thing, but if it costs a fortune to ship from there, it doesn’t help. When the packaging for some products is designed, the engineers take into account what the best dimensions for the package are based on how they can maximize the number that will fit in a shipping container.

As I rode on, I passed a woman who was collecting cans on the side of the road. I slowed to say hello and all I heard her say was “watch out" so I turned around and asked what was up. She told me that there was a 14 to 16 foot alligator up on the side of the road just ahead and it was aggressive. Whether it was 16 feet or 6, I really didn’t want to be anywhere near the thing. Now not only did I have to watch out for maniac drivers, but I had to be on the lookout for alligators as well. I rode in the dead center of the road for the next few miles, traffic be damned, but saw no sign of the gator. I eyed every downed tree limb and half submerged tire with a suspicious glance.

In some backwoods town I stopped to pick up a Gatorade, but there wasn’t much of a selection. There was however Night Train, Thunderbird, Boones Farm and six different flavors of Mad Dog 20/20. I didn’t know they still made any of those.

With all the talk of fire and brimstone in getting to New Orleans on a bike, I was pleasantly surprised as it was not nearly as bad as I thought it might be. Route 90, the road on which I rode for a majority of the day was in the process of being turned into an Interstate, so in the future that will preclude the use of the road to get to New Orleans on a bike.

Around midday I called a bike shop that had been closed the previous day. I spoke to a guy named Joe who had done a significant amount of long distance riding and was very familiar with New Orleans. While he mentioned that arriving from the southwest wasn’t ideal, he said it was possible and even legal, providing I took the ferry across the river.

As I arrived in the New Orleans area I had to cross two bridges that had large ”no bicycles" signs guarding the front of them. The bridges were small in comparison to the bridge of death in Lake Charles, so a non-event really.

Eventually I made it to the levee of the Mississippi River just across from New Orleans proper. As I looked down on the Mississippi I was thinking, “I want to kayak down that? What the hell am I thinking? I first had to survive the rest of the bike ride and then a 2,175-mile hike.

The levee path took me right to the ferry dock. I caught the timing for the 3:30 ferry perfectly. It was just about to leave when I hopped on. The ferry actually brought me dead west, so it was bringing me farther away from my destination, not closer. I will use that to reduce the cognitive dissonance of taking a ferry on a cycling trip.

After I crossed the river I had to wait for a freight train to pass. The train seemingly took 10 minutes. Rain was in the forecast and the sky was getting dark. I did however stop in the bike shop in which Joe worked to thank him in person for the directions. Joe was kind enough to give me direction out of New Orleans as well. He explained that the normal bike bridge leaving New Orleans had been out since Katrina came through, so a less than desirable detour was in order. One of his buddies called the Department of Transportation just to check and the DOT confirmed that it was closed. Argh!

I wouldn’t have minded sticking around a bit to swap stories, but rain was threatening. I would also have liked to do a lap around the French Quarter, as it had been a couple of years since I had been to New Orleans, but I would be back...in a kayak.

I had planned on staying in the northeast section of New Orleans so as to give me a jump of getting out of town in the morning. The area had been absolutely pounded by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the houses were still unoccupied, many with piles of trash outside which were formerly the contents of the house. The spray painted markings from FEMA were still on many of the houses. It was just desolate. Every once in a while there were a few houses together that had been redone. It was heartening that some progress had been made. Many of the businesses were shut down. Some of the new businesses were built right along side or integrated with the old. Even the motel in which I stayed had both an old and new section. I paid extra for the new. It was so new that they hadn’t even taken the plastic off the bed.

You know you are in a desolate area when you can’t even get Dominos Pizza to deliver to you.