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.

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