Ramble On

The bike left the barn in Marianna and made its way back to where I first bought it. Metal and plastic were bent, repaired, and replaced and it made its way back to the family home. When that house sold it was kept in a garage at a friend’s elsewhere in town. I rode it to the RiverLine after Thanksgiving and it transferred at Trenton en route to Penn Station, where I rode it in New York for the first time. Then, after adding winter tires and such, I brought it through Times Square and back to Penn, where it hung on the side of a baggage car down to D.C. At Union Station I met a relative who generously gave me some all-weather sleeping gear, then made my way across the Mall and found Mile Marker 0 of the C & O Canal. I joined up with and veered away from the canal up the Capitol Crescent Trail to Bethesda, where I stayed with similarly generous family until Sunday, when I doubled back to the canal and headed west on Sunday. The first day I took a relatively short ride and stayed at one of the houses for the canal lockmaster, a position that meant being at the ready for boat crossings at all times of the day. Boat traffic is mostly not an issue on the canal these days. The house had no electric, heat, hot water or cold water but firewood was outside and battery-powered lanterns were available inside. On the main floor there was a guestbook and the previous visitors mentioned “ghostlike noises but no ghosts!” The bike went into the basement. Beds were on the second floor: linens are not provided either so I used my sleeping bag on top of the comforter. The closest to ghosts I heard were the thumps of two NPS police cruisers going over the adjacent bridge at 2 a.m., the drivers chatting in the parking lot before resuming their patrol, white LED roof lights blazing into my windows.

[pictures to come when I have a better connection]

To the memories of yesterday’s clouds

When I arrived on Ocracoke days ago as the sun was setting, I passed a field where someone on a stretcher was being loaded onto a medivac helicopter. Later that night a bartender told me her boyfriend had left the island shortly after they both relocated there, comparing it to Alcatraz because of its limited accessibility. Coming down the east coast, moments like this, where the remoteness of a place led to thoughts of what would need to be done in an emergency, were rare. Not to say the hazards of the road did not loom in my mind in more connected areas as well: indeed, denser places also have a way of reminding you of what could lie ahead.

A couple days ago I left the goat farm, now inactive, after again receiving mindful and warm hospitality from my hosts, one of whom asked me, as she does for all her guests, to send a postcard at the end of my journey so she would know I arrived safely.I then continued past an active goat farm, albeit one with inactive goats.I wheeled on towards Tallahassee, where a man on a recumbent shared an inspiring story about himself and gave me tips about local bike shops. I stopped at one en route (my shifter indexing needed adjustment) and talked to the mechanics there, one of whom pointed me to a vegan cafe for lunch: I figured I may not see another one of those for a while so I stopped in and had a nice meal and respite from the heat of the day.

The sun was still up when I arrived in Chattahoochee (it was not as hot as Alan Jackson said it could get) and I paused for a while near a redundant sign before making the short descent to the city campground when it had set further.The park adjacent to the campground seemed like a good spot to relax, next to the river with a view of the dam at Lake Seminole, but I had to turn away before dusk faded away to set up camp.The campground itself was among the most spartan so far: no other tents there and I had to double-check the map to make sure I was in fact in the tent area. There were no picnic tables, so I propped the bike against a wood-and-metal apparatus of the park’s FitTrail, the exact same installations as those installed long ago at a playground in the town on Long Beach Island that was my starting point. Gulf Coast insects were living up to their reputation; thankfully, none made it into the tent. As such, I perused the zine they (of course) had on hand at my lunch spot in Tallahassee before falling asleep shortly after dark.I left early, which became even earlier as I crossed the river into Central Time. Since daylight savings would negate the change in a couple days, I did not adjust my clocks.Behind me the sun leapt over the horizon into the clouds.I knew this trip was most likely going to end one of two ways, each arbitrary in its own way. Those of you thinking about an adventure like this should be assured that most who set off on these journeys (there are more than you would think) reach the planned and preferred endpoint, and perhaps I will too. But once there I know my mind would ask me, “why not keep going?” Now the second possibility has instead struck, but I am wildly fortunate to still be able to entertain that question for the future. (I know the exact spot from which to proceed anew should the opportunity present itself.)

The full weight of the journey has not hit me yet, but I have seen so much I did not realize was out there and met (and revisited) so many kind and generous people. Passing interactions with people on the streets and in towns and cities were almost universally positive. All of that will stay with me and, I hope, continue to inform how I treat others going forward.

At other times, though I have not been candid here, I have been appalled and enraged by what I saw: strictures that should have been waylaid to the distant past are undeniably keeping a firm hold. While this is also true of where I grew up and where I live, en route it manifested itself in ways that I had not seen firsthand before and will not forget.

For many miles I thought about the freedom to roam about like this. Far too few people have the means and the option to do so if they would like, many of whom would question whether they could even feel comfortable or safe while making their way. On the road I thought about what I can do to, in some small ways, help correct this. A simple thought at first but it quickly becomes a broad and daunting mission. A bicycle tour offers an approach for this sort of thing, though: you know where you stop at the end of the day, so you know where to continue on the next one.

Making a right in Jacksonville

After a convivial weekend with family, who pulled out all the stops (and made fun of my glove tan lines, which…fair enough!), it was time to hop back on the bicycle Tuesday morning. I made my way across Jacksonville itself, watching the neighborhoods change and give way to industrial areas before ducking onto the Jacksonville-Baldwin Rail Trail, a placid 14 miles before I connected back onto Route 90. A road cyclist going the other way on the trail turned around to ask questions and chat, as did another roadie who saw me ahead on 90. He slowed down for a bit to speak about the trip and I learned about his house in Maspeth, Queens before he resumed his normal pace.US 90 is probably the most straightforward way across this part of the country by bicycle and makes for pretty good riding with a fair amount of truck traffic. My maps follow it often but also detour where less-trafficked roads are available or have more services, so I’ll play things by ear. On Tuesday, for example, I hopped off 90 towards the town of White Springs. I had received the combination to the Suwannee Bicycle Association’s headquarters there. After getting somewhat settled, I saw a couple guys out front of the clubhouse and joined their conversation: it turned out one of them was a mountain bike instructor and grew up here and the other was from NJ but traveling and working by van and that day was riding some mountain bike trails nearby. The former gave me some directions around town and I visited one of the springs by the river, with the remains of the surrounding bath house, and walked a bit around town. White Springs bills itself as Florida’s first tourist town and used to have quite a few hotels, but as the surrounding aquifer drained out the spring became inactive; Interstate 10 also drew most traffic out of town. White Springs does have a yoga studio, though, and thinking I could use a stretch I returned to the clubhouse and asked if it was active. The answer was yes, and the classes were taught by the MTB instructor’s stepmother. The three of us agreed to meet at the class later that evening. Somewhat surprisingly in such a small town, it proved to be a well-attended session. Afterward I and the other Jersey native were invited up for dinner, which included fresh kale from the garden, with some friends of theirs. We discussed the SBA and bicycles a bit but also spoke at length about the history of the town and its future. The clubhouse had an amazing kitchen but I was full of gratitude for the unexpected communal meal nearby.The next morning I continued west, the road signs offering zen koans about the route.I crossed a bridge as a train began to pass below.Soon I took a break in Madison at a sandwich shop opposite the county courthouse (which to my untrained eye appears to have ample grain storage) before continuing through Greenville, former home to one Ray Charles.Next I arrived in Monticello (in Jefferson County), where 90 circled around the central square. Monticello also has a historic opera house and a few cafes open at different times of the day: I stopped at one this afternoon and may grab something to go tomorrow on my way out: tonight I’m staying at a former goat farm just north of town so I’ll double back in the morning before again riding west!

Into Florida and last glances at the Atlantic

Continuing through Georgia on Thursday, I got more accustomed to the dog chases: most, even if they got into the road, seemed more inquisitive than ferocious and would stop once they were assured I was not going to go on their property. At one point even a dachshund gave earnest pursuit, though fortunately it was kept behind a fence.

I arrived in Nahunta, a town whose historic hotel building by the railroad tracks had been bought up and preserved by a husband and wife. She ran the hotel and he ran the adjacent barber shop; I patronized both.

On Friday, after sleep interrupted only somewhat by the passing freight trains (I knew these would be a factor going into my stay and would still recommend the hotel regardless), I continued through Folkston. There the railroad is even more central to the town: one has the option at staying in a furnished railcar, station house, or caboose (each even closer to the tracks than I had been). There was also a viewing platform at a track configuration called the “Folkston Funnel” where several railfans perched with binoculars.img_1761

I stopped at the Train Station Cafe: it was not quite open but the woman working there was happy to see a bike tourist stop by. She took my picture and gave me some cookies and muffins in exchange for some very small change and asked if I could mention the cafe on my blog, so I have now fully earned said cookies and muffins.img_1762

I then ambled my way towards a river bridge that marked the border with Florida. This crossing was more emotional than, say, the one into Delaware: perhaps because it is the southernmost state in the east, perhaps because a bicycle ride from New Jersey to Florida seems like a bit of a feat even without adding a western crossing.img_1764

After crossing the border, I stopped to grab a snack and refill my water bottles at a convenience store guarded by a rooster and abutted by a passive-aggressive sign about speed limits.

A few miles later I encountered a touring cyclist on the road for the first time on my journey. My host for the night had given a heads-up that he had stayed at their house the night before and that we would likely cross paths. We each pulled off to the side of the road and compared notes. He started in Houston and was on his way to Charleston. Not long afterward I saw another tourer who had begun in St. Paul, MN and was circling the lower 48 states. It sounds like I will start seeing more tourers on the Southern Tier route, which will be a contrast from my mostly solitary journey thus far. I am not sure which I will prefer, though in general the more cyclists on a given route the better that route becomes for cyclists.

I continued eastward towards Amelia Island, my destination for the evening. The maps overlapped with U.S. Bicycle Route 1.  This designation did not prevent construction crews from completely blocking the bike lanes with concrete barriers for dozens of stretches. For these portions they put up generally useless “share the road” signs on the side of the road, no consolation when I had to assert myself in two lanes of eastbound traffic with no shoulder. This went on for something like 11 to 14 miles but, following the construction, I made it to Jim and Pam’s house in Fernandina where they and their schnoodle Reese made for excellent hosts.

Saturday I had a relatively short ride to one last east coast ferry to Mayport. The roads to the ferry were often flanked by shaded paths and I paused to take in my last views of the Atlantic on my route. After the short ferry crossing I stopped at a restaurant on the river where I sipped iced tea while watching the resting pelicans and boats. I spoke to a fishingboat captain about my trip and the recent weather and continued towards Jacksonville, pausing to watch a container ship pass by on the river.

Not much later I arrived in Jacksonville for a couple days’ break to visit family and relax a little before the journey continues tomorrow. I’ve cycled about 1,200-1,300 miles so far; only 3,000 or so to go!

Exit, pursued by an armadillo, dogs, cattle, etc.

Eventful couple of days. Started in Point South, SC with a long ride into headwinds ahead of me. I packed up my tent in the predawn hours when I heard a rustling in the woods. As it got closer, I shined a light and an armadillo emerged. It continued waddling steadily and confidently (it is armored, after all) towards me until I made a noise, at which point it took a wide track and scrambled by. (No picture: it was dark.)

I then set off and made it through a cool, humid South Carolina morning and arrived at the Georgia border after the sun rose. There was condensation on my lens so it may not be clear here, but the Georgia border sign was the first one I saw on this trip with bullet holes clear through it. Milestones!

The Georgia roads were smoother and less busy than the South Carolina route, so I enjoyed the rolling hillsides and giant dog and verdant farmland and giant barking dog and serene ranchers and giant barking dog on road next to me and gaining on me.

I believe this was my first time being chased on a bike by an angry dog unencumbered by fence or leash, and this canine was cartoonishly evil-looking: a mutt with coat speckled in black and white, a large head, and a curb weight of about 80 pounds by my fear-induced reckoning. (My snarkier readers are free to assume it was a teacup poodle.) Adrenaline set in and I picked up speed, but I was not sure I would have enough to outlast it. I fiddled for my pepper spray (which I carry for just this purpose: I do not want to cause lasting damage to dogs, even ones chasing me, so it will hopefully act enough to distract a dog until I can get away). I also answered its barks with my own, which was somewhat effective. After a few seconds of pursuit, it stopped. (As did a second, smaller dog further behind, but that one barely registered in comparison.) I continued pedaling furiously for a while until I settled back down a bit and put my pepper spray in an even more accessible location. (No picture: was being chased by a dog.) These incidents (I had a couple more today, including a couple junkyard dogs who were undeterred by the busy highway; the other was a large, well-groomed purebred in front of someone’s house who may have just wanted a romp but one of course never knows) are apparently a fact of bicycling life in the American south. I have not had to use the pepper spray itself yet: I had packed it out of an abundance of caution, but it now seems quite likely I will need to use the stuff at some point. Depending on the dog, I may first fire a warning shot from a water bottle, though.

The rest of yesterday had fierce headwinds and some hills but was a pleasant, uneventful ride. I arrived at the home of Jerry and Shirley, my Warmshowers hosts for the night. I do have a picture of them: we tried to include their magnificent touring tandem but it required its own separate framing:They have an absurd amount of touring experience matched only by their hospitality, which extended to both me and the bicycle! Shirley made a dinner anchored by fried chicken and grits and eggs for breakfast, while Jerry helped me troubleshoot some bicycle issues and even did some light maintenance. They also shared advice and stories (including about dogs, of course) from the road. It was wonderful to hear so much received wisdom firsthand: I have not met many tourers in my life, so I was grateful for every word.

This morning promised favorable winds so, while eating the aforementioned grits, I waited for the rain to stop before riding at a much faster pace than the past couple days. I passed a vineyard and some small towns.

The maps I am using have “matchlines” at the end of every fold to show you where it connects to the next installment and let you reset your trip odometer accordingly. One matchline today was at an intersection featuring cattle on both sides, who watched and mooed as I re-folded the map. Here are the cows that were to my right:Once situated, I started riding again. The cows and calves to my left started to follow: a cattle stampede!Zoom.

One final moment of silliness for this post: I came upon a sign that said the road was closed in a mile and that it was open only to local traffic. Naturally I passed it by. A mile went by and no closure. Many more miles went by, and you know what happened next: a “Bridge Out” sign and a crane looming in the center of the road. I pedaled closer. It did not look passable, but a heavy equipment vehicle was rolling down a parallel dirt road below. I followed that road until it was cut off by a murky creek that would have been no problem for the construction vehicle but was not going to work for me. Fortunately I saw some wood planks and pallets nearby and I started dragging one in place so I could walk the bike across. At this point a bemused (and probably amused) construction worker realized what was happening and shouted directions to get back up to the bridge and across the portion where they had already laid concrete. I had not been able to get their attention before and was glad for the easier way across. I shared some details of the trip, confirmed there was not more construction ahead, and went on my way. Here is the scene looking back, with the dirt road on the left.

After that, it was smooth sailing (well, those junkyard Rottweilers) to my stop for tonight. More on that to come. On toward Florida tomorrow!

Heading inland

To make it through Wilmington, I enlisted one of my hosts to act as a local guide for cycling through the town.

She quickly got frustrated with my slow pace, though, and hurriedly gave directions before speeding off for a double espresso.
Left to fend for myself, I headed down a brick-paved street to the river.

There was one more North Carolina ferry to catch, so I made my way past the highly accurate deer crossing sign and the beaches before going across Cape Fear.

After cycling across Long Island one time and discovering that many towns there have West, Central, and East counterparts, I was surprised and delighted to find there was no Central Carolina in between the North and the South.

South Carolina’s roads were far less welcoming to a cyclist at first, but as I pressed on past Conway (where I stayed my first night) things got somewhat quieter and I spent my second night at a state park where yellow pedals matching my tent fell to the ground overnight.

After a couple long rides, I took it easier today and made it to a campground in Point South, passing a Tuskegee Airmen memorial at the Walterboro airfield and having lunch at a local restaurant a few miles before the site. The owner was originally from NJ and so was very interested in the trip, so I was glad to have stopped by (especially as a change of pace from my usual gas station meals during the day).Tomorrow, I take the bold step of heading west of I-95 for the first time this trip and then continue into Georgia.

Through the endless blue meanders

I caught the earliest ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island while the sun rose, knowing that the wind was favorable that day and that I needed to be in Wilmington two days later. The mosquitos were out in force on Ocracoke, where the campground gave a substantial discount due to lingering hurricane damage, but it is one of many places I would like to return to and explore more.(For my first few NC ferries I interpreted the “No sitting on rails” signs to mean “Don’t lean your bike on them, either,” but I learned I was mistaken. Easier to dry things on the bike this way, too.)

It proved to be my first ride of over one hundred miles on this trip. Rain came and went: not severely enough for me to need to don my rain cape but refreshing enough to temporarily cool things down.

This allowed for a relatively short ride into Wilmington today, largely on a busy main road and with the wind slightly against me. I persevered with help from something I did not expect to find in NC (nor was I looking for it, least of all the elusive Cel-Ray that is tough to find in even the most well-stocked New York City bodegas):My glamourous lunch in the shade of a liquor store building across from an Italian deli and food store complete, I made the final push to Wilmington. The shorter ride allowed more time to visit with another hometown friend and his family, who have been fantastic hosts and also have very welcoming neighbors. We even managed to get a photo of the entire household aside from the cat.

Tomorrow, another quick ferry ride awaits, as does my first visit to South Carolina.

Landed on the quay as the ship was sailin’

After a nice night in Virginia Beach in a very bikeable neighborhood I headed south on some busy roads while fighter jets sped by somewhat more quickly overhead. (Spot if you can.)

My front tire, despite the new tube, had lost some pressure the evening before so I stopped at Fat Frog’s bike shop. A mechanic with a full beard and waxed mustache (always a good sign) who took a look, which among other foolproof tests involved pumping the tube up to max pressure and running it along his whiskers. We couldn’t find anything wrong with the tube, tire, or rim so I changed the tube just in case and had some coffee and cake left over from a group ride that morning. It was then that they helped me avoid attempting to bike in sand dunes.
Compared to, say, Yahoo Maps and Mapquest, it may be doubletrue that Google Maps is the best, but on occasion its bicycle directions still have their quirks. From Virginia Beach, there are bike paths that eventually turn to sand, and some people have apparently toured on them, and Google blithely assumes you’d like to try it out. The shop, though, helpfully gave me their map and cue sheets to get to the Outer Banks via Knott’s Island instead on a series of back roads.

From Knott’s it’s a ferry east to west back to the mainland, from which there is a long causeway to Kitty Hawk.

I made my way to Kill Devil Hills and stayed on the bay with a host, Pat, I found on Warmshowers.org, a Couchsurfing-but-for-touring-cyclists site. It was both of our first times using the site, but you wouldn’t know that from her hospitality (and that of her three small dogs, each named after an I Love Lucy character).

The next day I continued down the islands, stopping to pay tribute to a couple local bike mechanics who made good. From there it was long stretches of dunes and water on both sides. From Hatteras I took the ferry to Ocracoke, where I’m camping tonight before catching an early ferry in the morning.

Bridge and Tunnel

After packing up my campsite in Maryland, I continued down the Delmarva into Virginia, land of competing slogans, some more subtle than others (zoom in if you can, sorry for the sun):Much of the route looked pretty much like this,but there were also some opportunities to detour onto back roadsand there was a bike path running alongside the main roads for the last few miles before the toll booth at the end of the island.

From there I rested the bike on a pile of traffic cones in a bridge authority truck bed, paid the toll for the truck, and got a ride across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (which features bridges that descend into tunnels to allow freighters to go by) as the tail car in an oversized load convoy.Once in Virginia Beach, I headed to my hosts for the night, including one of my hometown neighbors who made his way here. They too gave excellent hospitality.Tomorrow I make my way to the Outer Banks, joining up with the Adventure Cycling maps (and larger states!).