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.

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