A North American Bicycle Journey
I pedalled my way from Key West, Florida to Tok, Alaska. What I wrote in my journal is what I was thinking and feeling at the time, it’s just a reflection of who I am, my own personal opinions, my own perceptions, and written exactly as I saw the world around me at that particular moment.
Why I did it? That is what most people ask, and you know, it is not a simple answer. One of my thoughts was to really do something with my life and truly live. Experience the world around me before I shuffle off the mortal coil.
My name is Wade Anderson. The bicycle adventure was absolutely fantastic and I will always treasure that time. My current journey started in Alaska where I met my wife and have since moved to the pacific northwest where we are raising our 6 kids….. 4 cats and 2 dogs!
On Bike at beginning of ride / replaced or addition during ride
|Frame||M2 X w/ butted M2 Ceramic Composite top & down tubes|
|Fork||Rock Shox Judy XC w/ custom black 38 mm offset, alloy steerer|
|Headset||Ritchey Logic Expert, SBC laser-etched aluminum top cap|
|Stem||Dimension 40 degree Stem Head from QBP|
|Handlebar||Ritchey ForceLite, alloy|
|Bar Ends||Onza R.A.W. 140 Bar Ends with L-bend|
|Brakes||Avid Single Digit 20|
|Brake Levers||Avid Single Digit 1.9L w/Speed Dial Adjust|
|Front Derailleur||Shimano Deore XT|
|Spokes||Ritchey Logic 1.8 mm, gold alloy nipples – replaced one broken spoke in Anchorage|
|Tires||Continental Conti Top Touring 2000 26 x 1.75|
|Tubes||Specilized Airloc tubes – bought thorn resistant tubes in Key Largo, which I cut the inner section of the tube all the way around and then cupped those around the other tubes while I was in Mississpi.. no flats!|
|Seat||Body Geometry saddle from Specialized|
|Seat Post||Rock Shox suspension seat post|
|Seat Binder||Forged A1 with binder bolt|
|Rear Derailleur||Shimano XTR|
|Shift Levers||Shimano Deore XT independent|
|Cassette||Shimano HG70 11-30, 8 speed|
|Crankset||Specialized StrongArm Pro, forged, 22s/32a/42a|
|Chain||Shimano IG51 – replaced with Shimano HG91 in Billings, MT ~3500 miles|
|B/B||Specialized sealed-bearing cartridge – replaced with Shimano XT after arriving in Anchorage, AK|
|Rims||Mavic X221 with eyelets, 32-hole, silver – drilled to fit Shrader valves|
|Front Hub||Specialized Stout SuperFly with aluminum Skraxle|
|Rear Hub||Shimano Deore LX|
|Trailer/Storage||B.O.B. YAK /added Ortlieb Rear Panniers in Missoula, MT|
Florida – day 0 to day 18 – March 1999
Key West- followed highway 1 to Homestead
997 to 27 N to Belle Glade
rode on east side of Lake Okeechobee on 715 to 441
to Okeechobee City
rode on 98 to HWY 27 then West on Hwy 60
took a detour south to Largo and visited friends
rode on the Pinellis County trail to
Highway 19 north to Perry
then followed 98 to 267 at Newport and rode through the Apalachicola National Forest
then hopped on highway 20 west at the other side of the forest
followed 20 to Blountstown and then headed north on 71
71 to 73 west into Marianna
73 to 231 north
231 to 2 west at Campbellton, FL
2 west to 79 north
79 north into Alabama
DAY 0 – March 14, 1999
Off to Florida I go, to begin my journey…
I stayed in a hotel last night near the airport in preparation for my early flight. I slept maybe 4 hours and got up at 5:15am. Along with me, I had one carry-on bag and 2 oversize boxes. They accepted my boxes without charging me the extra $50. Wooo Hooo! I’ll have to treat myself to something nice with the money I just saved :)
My flight was delayed for about 2 hours due to mechanical problems, which is fine, because I had a 2.5-hour layover scheduled in Miami. Finally we were able to board the plane, where I had a window seat; and to my right were Bobbie and Bob, headed off on a vacation. They have a time-share condo on St. Martin Island. We talked about a lot of different things. Mostly Bobbie was asking about my upcoming adventure. I tried to discuss it without seeming nervous, but I was a little.
We deplaned in Miami at 12:10pm and I had to run through the airport in my bike shoes! My next flight was scheduled to leave at 12:30 and I had to be waaaaaay on the other side of the airport. When I finally arrived, out of breath, I found out the flight was delayed, and I had to wait an hour.
The plane touched down at Key West where I was greeted with 80-degree temperatures. My 2 boxes arrived intact and I scooted them, one at a time, out front. I opened the boxes and spread the contents out on the bench in front. This drew a lot attention, as people were staring. One guy stopped to talk as I was assembling my bike. He introduced himself as “Irwin” and said that he biked to Key West from D.C.
I finished assembling my bike and threw all my gear in the trailer. I cut the boxes into small pieces and threw them away into several small trashcans along with my duffel bag I used for carry-on. Irwin gave me directions to the campground and I was on my way.
Along the way I met an unusual character. He was biking alone and he asked where I was headed. Then he was kind enough to lead me to Boyd’s Campground. He told me that I shouldn’t stay there, but instead, join him and him friends under the bridge where they stay up and party all night. Apparently, there is a small group that lives there. I thanked him and said I was going to check out the campground. He proceeded to inform me that the campground is too expensive because they have a pool, big screen TV, showers and a beach area. I said I’ll check out this campground anyway, and I headed across the street after thanking him.
I went inside the office and reserved a campsite for $36 + tax. The girl was very helpful, gave me a street map, and told me of the “must sees and do’s”. I went outside and that guy was out there waiting by my bike. “Well, what are you going to do?” he asked me. I informed him that I planned on staying here; then I tactfully departed his company.
Now I don’t like to prejudge people but he did look like a drug addicted, homeless street person. He was very thin and had “C”-sized breasts! (Gynecomastia or implants?) Plus the fact that he lives under a bridge didn’t help either.
I set up camp and rushed to go spend the afternoon downtown. I rode to Mallory Square and watched the street performers and awaited the “sunset celebration”, an every night ritual (365 days a year). Duvall Street appears to be much like Bourbon Street, New Orleans and 7th Ave., Ybor City, Tampa, and Deep Ellum, Dallas – another one of those party streets where you can party all night and encounter every type of person imaginable. It was so tempting for me to stay and have a drink, but I wanted to get an early start. As the sun dipped out of sight, it began to get darker; so I decided to ride back to the campground. As I rode toward “the bridge” I could see under part of it form the angle I was approaching it. On the other side I could barely make out the outlines of people and bright red “cherries” from the end of cigarettes, or whatever else they were smoking. Riding over “the bridge” I could hear the people below. I kept hoping that the guy I’d met earlier wouldn’t appear.
I made it back to my tent but found it difficult to sleep. I was pretty tired from lack of sleep, but there were too many noisy Spring Breakers. So I put in my earplugs and soon drifted off.
DAY 1 – March 15, 1999
I woke up just before sunrise, showered and washed yesterday’s clothes in the shower with me. After gathering everything and packing my tent away, I strapped my wet clothes to my trailer so they could dry while I rode. A guy I met yesterday afternoon while setting up camp stopped to talk about my ride. On my way out, I stopped at the office and met Nancy. I’d spoken with her on the phone the previous week. She was exceptionally nice and was excited about my trip. After finding out about my Web site, she offered to e-mail my friends who maintain the site and let them know I’m on the way.
I rode to the southern most point in the continental U.S. and had someone take my picture by the marker. I reset the odometer on my bike and was on my way! On my way……. wow I still couldn’t believe I am waaaaaaaaay down here in Key West, and someday I’ll be waaaaaaaay up there in Alaska!!!!!
Travelling north on US1 I stopped at the Harley Davidson dealer and bought a shirt for a friend in Indiana. The owner said he would ship it and then he asked me about what route I’m taking through Florida. He highly recommended 997 and said that there was plenty of shoulder to ride on.
As I continued my ride North, the clouds looked like possible rain. It was a warm morning with plenty of tailwind. Then I encountered a bit of sprinkling rain as I left Key West. After crossing the 7-mile bridge I began to feel a bit of that dreaded knee pain. Ugh! When I stopped to photograph a pelican I began singing “a glorified version of a pelican” which is supposed to be “a glorified version of a pellet gun” from Glorified G by Pearl Jam. hee hee
I stopped at the Eckerd Drug Store in Marathon to buy those post cards I forgot to get in Key West. An older lady that was behind me in line stopped to talk and look at my bike. After finding out what I was doing she called her husband over, since he used to be a cyclist. They both appeared to be about 70 years old. Friends of theirs walked up and began getting into a long detailed conversation with me. They were very nice and had a sincere interest in what I was doing. She looked at my trailer and tucked in the shirt under the bungee cords a little better. It was back there drying after washing it in the shower this am. She was making sure I didn’t lose anything. I felt a bit guilty about wanting to get on with my trip. I thought, I might never get anywhere if I engage in long conversations every time I stopped. But that’s why I’m doing this trip – to experience bits of other people’s lives, the freedom of riding, the wonderful scenery and the view of nature along the way.
They asked to make sure I had enough money and the lady told me to be careful. Then she added, “there will be times when you’ll probably regret being on this trip, but when you finish it’ll be an experience you’ll remember the rest of your life. And you’ll meet a lot of wonderful people along the way.”
After riding a few miles I saw a Miami Subs restaurant and stopped for a quick lunch. I walked out into a heavy downpour, so I put on my raincoat and rode out into the rain. It stopped raining after about 20 minutes and the sun came out again. The wind continued to push me and I saw the flag on my trailer blowing towards me. I would have to say the wind speed was about 30 mph and gusting up to 40 Mph.
I blew into Long Key State Recreation Area at about 3:30pm. Woooo Hoooo- tailwind all the way baby!! I had ridden 70 miles and was ready to stop. The camping fee was $5.85. I set up my tent on a wooden platform shaded in the trees. The ocean was about 30 feet away, so I head out for a relaxing swim. The water felt good on my now-sunburned face, arms and legs. Later in the evening I met the guys in the next campsite over. Mike, Eric, Ryan, and Lou are college students from Wisconsin. They drove down for Spring Break and were heading to Key West tomorrow.
Mike wanted to take a picture of me with my bike. So, after he took a picture, we all discussed my trip and their plans after college. All these guys were nice and appeared to be just like some guys I hung out with in college – real laid back and enjoying stuff like camping and hiking. Ryan stated that he hiked part of the Appalachian Trail. One of my dreams for the future is to hike the whole trail from Georgia to Maine. The rest of the evening they played Bob Marley which just happened to be the same one I have, “Legends”. Ahhhhh great music to listen to here on the beach, Bob Marley was such a great musicain!! The best part is that I don’t have to wear down the batteries in my walkman playing the same stuff :)
Another couple set up camp close by. The girl talked on a cell phone and they had a TV! I thought they called these “primitive campsites”! They also had a big inflatable mattress and many other luxuries. Both of them looked like models, she wore a skimpy two piece bikini and looked like she should be on Baywatch, and he looked like a GQ model.
DAY 2 – March 16, 1999
I had some trouble sleeping last night due to the sunburn pain. After focusing on the sound of the wind in the trees and the ocean waves, I finally fell asleep.
When I got up I immediately took a Tylenol to help ease the pain. I fixed some oatmeal on my camp stove and ate in front of the ocean. The morning was so relaxing and peaceful with a gentle breeze rustling the trees and the music of the birds. The waves gently rolled in as I gazed across the vast expanse of the ocean. I’ve now decided that I must stay another day!
I met the luxury tenters, Mike and Holly. They are from Miami and decided to take time off work and get away from it all. Mike blows up their inflatable kayak and they head out in the ocean with fishing poles. Upon their return about 2 hours later, Mike asks if I want to borrow the kayak. I decline the offer so I can avoid getting too much sun today.
I spent most of the day relaxing, writing in my journal, and writing postcards. When things got a bit cooler in the late afternoon, I headed into the small town and bought a few things. A small bag of Mahatma chicken flavored rice, a can of green beans, and 2 cold beers. Ahhh those sure tasted great :) This is the LIFE!!! No worries, just enjoying the moments I have.
After eating it started getting really dark, so I had to hurry and put everything away while I could still see. While relaxing in my tent I listened to the news playing on the TV in Mike and Holly’s tent. I soon fell asleep but was awakened several times in the night by raccoon’s trying to get into my food.
DAY 3 – March 17, 1999
After saying my good-byes to Mike and Holly as they were leaving, I finished writing for yesterday in my journal. While I was on my way out I met Ed, one of the park rangers. He inquired about my trailer and asked about my ride. Ed told me that south Florida was one of the most dangerous places to cycle. He told me his own cycling horror stories in south Florida. On one occasion he was cycling along when a lady in the passenger seat of a van threw a dirty diaper hitting him in the face. Another time someone threw a big chunk of ice hitting him in the left eye, which caused some peripheral vision problems for a long time after. He goes on to tell me about this “redneck” in a truck that was driving in the opposite direction. The “redneck” crossed over the road and ran Ed off the road into a ditch.
He recommended a book for me to read, “Miles from Nowhere” by Barbara Savage. Which I did read only a month ago. Ed stated he met Barbara and her husband when they camped at the same campground and said that Barbara quoted him in the book. He told of warning them about the ride into Key West. “You shouldn’t go any farther and end it here. The road ahead is suicide.” Having just cycled that area myself, I saw the old bridges that they had to cross. Long bridges with no shoulder, and very narrow. Barely enough room for 2 cars side by side. I don’t know if I would’ve cycled it back then, especially the 7-mile bridge. But now the new bridges have plenty of shoulder and it’s a nice ride. I pedaled off and heard him say to me as I rode away, “I wish you no bad detriments on your trip.”
I rode on to the post office and mailed my postcards and journal entries. At the post office a very nice lady put $5 on the counter in front of and said, “go treat yourself to breakfast.” This was after she found out my bike plans, and although excited for me, she seemed a bit concerned. So far I’ve only met the nicest of people. :)
I stopped at a Subway for lunch and refilled my water bottles. As I rode into Key Largo, I took a picture of the “African Queen”. There was a Canadian I spoke with and he said I was leaving way too early for my ride. He couldn’t understand the concept of taking my time instead of racing to get there. Battling headwinds and the hot sun today made me re-consider the ride into homestead. The temp was 90 degrees and the sun was searing my sunburn. So I stopped at John Pennecamp State Park (39 miles). I pulled up to the gate and found out that the campsites were full. But as luck would have it, Kirsten is at the gate and offers to share her campsite. After setting up camp she offers to take me to the grocery store with her.
Before going into the store she goes into the library while I headed for the bike shop. They were all in the same strip mall. While in the bike shop I look at tires and was considering buying an extra tire for a spare. While talking to the guy he told me about his friend that rode from Key West to Alaska then down to San Diego and across to Georgia. I was informed that he too was pulling a B.O.B trailer and kept 75 lbs. in it. During that ride he had only 1 flat while riding over barbed wire. His great success in combating flats was due to “thorn resistant” tubes. I looked at those tubes and although they seemed a bit heavy for tubes, I thought they might save me some grief in the future. The outside of the tube is 4.5 mm thick, the road side. So I bought 2 for $6.50 each and headed for the grocery store. I bought some nectarines, bagels, and some more sunblock.
Upon returning I ate 2 nectarines and sat down to write this when a squirrel walks right onto the paper I’m writing on. This little guy has been fed by too many of the tourists here. So far 75% of the people here are in rented RV’s and are from Germany or some other foreign country.
I heard some guy yelling with his German accent “ruh-coon” “ruh-coon”. I look and he is pointing at me and then pointing to my feet. I looked under the picnic table to see a raccoon right by my leg. Geeeeeeez not raccoons again, they woke me up several times at the other campsite trying to get my food.
The excitement of the evening came when I discovered my camp stove was leaking at the fitting to the butane bottle. In a giant poof I burnt the hair on my left arm. I guess that’s why they say that the bottle must be upright when in use. :)
After eating, I hung out with Kirsten and we discussed everything form Botany to Zoology. She is a bit eccentric but a very intelligent lady, and well versed on many topics. One of those rare people that are very good with right brained and left brained stuff. We sat in her RV while she weaved a hat and uploaded the pics from her digital camera to her laptop computer.
I heard the raccoons outside and thought “good thing my food is safe inside of my tent.” But I decided to take a quick peek outside and wouldn’t you know it, those clever little ba…. Uh creatures managed to unzip my tent. Three of them scurried out of my tent making off with my bagels, nectarines, and the rest of my instant mashed potatoes. Luckily, they didn’t have time to discover the rest of my food. I positioned the zippers at the top of the tents arched door so they won’t be able to get in again. Then headed back to talk with Kirsten.
Kirsten talked some about her interests in neuro-linguistics. We also discussed quantum physics and about how much power our minds can have over our own health. She recommended a book “Molecules of Emotion” by Candace Pert. The evening ended by an exercise she put me through. It was a self-improvement exercise requiring thought, concentration, and imagery.
I went to sleep about 1 am.
DAY 4 – March 18, 1999
I got up at about 6 am and showered then I headed to the beach area on my bike. I wanted one last look at the Atlantic Ocean. I really enjoyed the peaceful morning on the beach. Others are yet to wake up and get here, so that leaves me alone to take all this in, as the sun rises over the horizon of the ocean with beautiful palm trees decorating the landscape.
Went back to camp and said good bye to Kirsten. She took pics of me with her digital camera and said she would e-mail them to “Imp” and Steve. I only hope that if any of the pics are dorky, they don’t put them on my web pages :) I left around 9:30 am.
The roads through the Keys have been great to ride on. Most of the time you either have a bike lane or a wide enough shoulder. Heading out of Key Largo the road was newly paved. But the new pavement only goes a couple inches beyond the white line. They left the old road shoulder there, which was bumpy as hell. I rode on the white line, and as far to the right I could on new asphalt. But while cars were passing… I headed back over to the butt hurtin’, teeth jarrin’ side. I also crossed a couple of bridges over channels that had no shoulder. I cringed as this idiot in his big ass suburban tried to pass me with cars coming in the opposite direction. My handlebar was about 2 inches from scraping his paint!
The temp today is 85 degrees but over 90 on the hot asphalt. The sun continued to fry my bright red skin as I realize I forgot to fill my water bottles! DOH! So I pedal at a slow, easy pace, to keep from getting overheated. There is nothing along the way… just road and marshlands.
I only rode 30.5 miles today. Arriving in Homestead at noon. I stopped at the first convenience store, downed 2 PowerAde’s and ate a grilled chicken sandwich. As I continued riding through downtown Homestead, a lady in the passenger seat of a RV said something to me. I catch up to her at the red light and I realize it’s one of the ladies from Boyd’s campground in Key West. She was saying hello and wishing me luck on my trip.
Finding the Caribe motel, I checked in and immediately fell asleep for 1.5 hours. Having only 5 hours of sleep, and the hot sun zapping my energy, I was really tired. I’m just glad that I’m biking now, I’d die if I’d waited until summer!
The rest of the afternoon was spent making phone calls to let everyone know where I was. I fixed the rest of the chicken flavored rice on my camp stove and ate one of my MET-Rx food bars.
As I’m writing this I’m wondering about the road ahead. Initially there were a lot of people saying that 997 is a death wish. A lot of trucks take it to avoid the toll road. I was also informed that there is no shoulder to ride on. One person in Key West said it would be best to follow Highway 1 all the way to where it connects to 27 in Miami. He said it was a good, safe route. But on my departing day, I was assured by another, that it’s been paved recently and has a wide shoulder. I hope the guy didn’t have his roads confused! Guess I’ll find out tomorrow. For now I’ll watch some brainless TV and go to bed early.
DAY 5 – March 19, 1999
My first century ride wooooooo hoooooooo!!
Well probably the slowest century on record, but I did it :)
I made my self get up at 5am and quickly got everything together. No one was in the office to turn in my key, so I slid it under the glass window. Then I hit the road at 5:45 am, and for 1.5 miles north of Homestead there was no shoulder. It was still dark so I rode with my flashing taillight and my headlight both on. There was a lot of traffic on the road as I kept my bike on the white line. It was pretty scary so I started to turn right at an intersection and head back to 1. But a nice, wide, shoulder appeared ahead, so I continued north through Redland, Florida and watched the sunrise. Redland is an agricultural community and from what I saw, they must have forgot to put “neck” in the middle of the name. Hee Hee
It was a nice morning ride until after the first 20 miles, when the shoulder completely disappeared at the intersection of 41 Tamiami Trail and 997. But I decide I’ve come to far to turn back. According to the map I was about halfway to Highway 27. For about 2 or 3 miles I attempted to ride the white line. But there was too much traffic. One guy in a semi decided not to get over and there were not any other cars coming. He got within inches of me, and then laid on his horn when he was right beside me! If I stay here I’ll surely die!! So after that, and several other close calls, I headed for the grass. I stopped and put my headphones on then rode about ten feet from the road. It was a slow ride but I was happy…. There is something about music that can really change a person’s attitude. I just rode at an easy pace and listened to my tapes. The first song on my tape was Matchbox 20… they sang “I’ll bet all my friends would be stunned” and I thought yeah they sure might be with what I’m attempting here…. If I live to tell about it! Then another line they had was, “I wish the real world would stop hassling me” and I thought yeah I wish it would, the real world being all those idiots in the big trucks and in the cars running me off the road. I’m sure many are late for work or late for appointments, speeding and getting mad at anything that slows them down as they lead those stressfull lives flying down the road.
It was only fifteen miles of riding in the grass when I arrived at Highway 27. I had already stopped several times to stretch. After a few miles up 27, I pulled off in the grass and took a fifteen-minute nap. That was until someone honked and yelled something. I’ve had a few people honk and yell at me but I can never make out what they’re saying as they speed by. I would have to think that they are only giving me words of encouragement :)
Highway 27 has nice wide shoulders but is quite boring. Unlike the Keys, where I was always passing others biking, jogging, or walking their dogs. It was nice to have people say hello, and to say hello to as I rode by. So I decided to use my walkman at a low volume, and this is the first time I heard the “Sunscreen” song. What a good song! And the sunscreen part really applied to me HEE HEE…. But I really enjoyed listening to the advice about life. I will definitely have to buy this for the times I may feel a bit down :)
While approaching the exit ramp for I75, I checked the line of cars behind me and none were signaling to exit, so I continued straight and then I heard the loud horn of a Semi and the EERRRRRR of his brakes!!! As he was headed at me, I pedaled as fast as my legs would move me. Whew! That was close! Damn why didn’t he signal!! I guess I should stop and wait until there are no cars on the road prior to passing in front of an exit ramp!! Oh well… I’ll just be very careful in the future… lesson learned.
I continue north and then stopped again to take a quick nap. The temp was 87 degrees but felt so much hotter riding over the asphalt and with my bad sunburn. By this time I’ve developed blisters on both arms and my right hand is really swollen as well as my right cheek. The burn is worse on the right side of my body because of the position of the sun while I’m riding. I didn’t use any sunscreen on my first day out when I got the really bad burn. Since then I’ve been using spf50 but I haven’t taken the time to re-apply it during the day. Which is what I really need to get in the habit of doing.
Well I tried to nap but cars kept stopping to see if I was OK. One guy stopped with NC plates and it ends up his wife is from where I live… what a coincidence. So I gave up on the nap idea and rode the additional 30 miles to Belle Glade. I stopped and bought 2 PowerAde’s then got a bean burrito at Taco Bell. The cashier gave me directions to the only campground.
I rode through the worst areas I’ve ever seen in my life, a very impoverished black community. I kept thinking that I was in the bad area of town and this will end soon. I turned to go down another street and things just seem to get worse and worse and never ending. Many of the business are closed down and buildings condemned. People everywhere, on the streets and the sidewalks. Very crowded with people all around and guys hanging out with no shoes or shirts on. It was like the world was in slow motion as I rode. Everyone just hung out and moved slow and I could feel the weight of their stares. The people looked dirty, the buildings looked dirty, the road looked dirty. They all just blended together into a dull gray in this very depressed area. I felt as if I somehow entered into a third world country. Not only am I on a very noticeable bicycle with a trailer, but with me being the only white boy around and wearing such a brightly colored bike shirt, I really stuck out and I’m sure looked very odd to everyone.
The streets reeked of drugs, hatred and violence. It made me nervous riding through there. Especially when people started yelling at me. Then one black guy on a bike heads across the street straight at me. He was trying to intimidate me, but I just kept clippin’ away and didn’t pay him any attention. I was also glad to have that giant can of bear mace strapped in its holder on my bike! But it wouldn’t help against a gun. The only way I would’ve felt safe riding through here would’ve been inside a big tank!! … Even in the middle of the day.
After riding a few miles through this I was skeptical about the campground I was going to. But I eventually got there and it was a nice place. It’s on Lake Okeechobee and has bathhouses, payphones, and washers & dryers. I set up my tent and watched a beautiful sunset. Afterwards, I made a couple of phone calls and took a shower. And geez, is my butt sore!!! It feels like I crapped out a watermelon!! And, it must have been covered in barbed wire!!! Ouch!!! It really hurts, I had to check to make sure I wasn’t bleeding, it was that sore and raw. Guess I’ll have to check into that Chaf-Ez stuff. Not sure if I’ll ride much tomorrow ’cause my butt is sore, my legs are sore, and my knees are still bothering me.
I went to sleep thinking how glad I was surviving today!!
DAY 6 – March 20, 1999
Woke up by early morning boaters well before sunrise. But I couldn’t move, my body ached too much. Finally I forced myself up at 7am. Man I should’ve trained a little bit for this ride. I did try- I bought a trainer and hated it. Then I decided to go on some short 3 day to one-week rides and injured my left knee when I fell on it the first time out. So I didn’t even touch my bike the final 6 weeks before my ride, giving my injury time to heal. But I started my trip early enough and should have plenty of time to get in better shape. And these 100-mile days have got to get easier! :)
I’ve decided to deviate from my route. I’ll be meeting a friend of a friend in Okeechobee City, Florida. So I’ll be going along the east side of the lake instead of the west side. I hope 441 will be as nice as 27 is with wide shoulders to ride on.
I got my stuff together and then brushed my teeth in the bathhouse. There were several rednecks in there too. And when I biked out, one redneck had a few sarcastic remarks for me as I passed. I didn’t notice that I was in a redneck haven last night. I’m just glad to get out of here and on the road.
I followed 715 to Pahokee, which looked sort of run down. A bum asked me for change when I stopped at a fruit stand to buy a nectarine. Then took 441 North, which had a decent shoulder most of the way. It was a hot day and my thermometer read over 90 but I was informed it didn’t get to 90 today. Maybe it is just the heat coming up from the road. I stopped about halfway and took one of my quick power naps. Then I stopped at a small, Podunk, bait/convenience store and bought a Gatorade and a turkey sandwich. I ate the last of my MET-Rx bars for breakfast.
Arriving in Okeechobee around 3:30pm I called Lynn, that friend of a friend. And that friend of mine doesn’t know her all that well, having met on the internet. So that’s probably why I didn’t feel too welcomed when I called. After realizing she wasn’t going to offer a couch or floor to sleep on, I inquired about camping or motels. She directed me to the KOA campground and the Budget Inn. I also asked about internet access and she said that she had a friend that owned a cyber café here in town. But it won’t be open until Monday, so I’ll either have to wait an extra day here or will skip typing up my journal entries. As far as the hesitation I could sense in her voice, I think it is only natural for most to be wary of guys traveling through on a bike, especially a lady that lives alone. Even though it did make me feel a bit dejected, I really did understand her dilemma.
I biked past the KOA and didn’t get a good feeling about the place. My knees were hurtin’ a bit too, so I thought I’d hit the Budget Inn and ice them.
While checking in to the hotel I spoke with a nice lady at the desk. When she found out I rode through Belle Glade, she stated “I bet you didn’t see many white people.” Then she told me how it has one the highest concentrations of aids in the world. She also told me of problems 2 cyclers from France had at the campground here in Okeechobee. And how she took them in for a couple of weeks while they were studying snakes in this area. After they left they were robbed near Sarasota and one was hit over the head. After showering in my room, I headed across the street to the grocery store to stock up on food and powdered Gatorade. After returning to my room, I called my friend Kathleen. I was headed there next and wanted to work out the details. I did a clinical intern at her private clinic when I was in college. And I found her not only to be an exceptional clinician but an exceptional person as well.
During our conversation I discovered that the final four was being held in St. Petersburg and they had friends flying in on Saturday. So I really need to get there prior to Saturday before they have all those guests. That means no cyber cafe for me. I’ll have to leave either tomorrow or first thing Monday morning. If my knees are better, I’ll leave tomorrow. I’m starting to get a bit of a negative attitude here and maybe the sooner I can leave the better. I put Zheng Gu Shui(an oriental concoction) on both my knees and my sore left shoulder and then went to sleep.
DAY 7 – March 21, 1999
I woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in my left knee. So I’ll be here for at least another day.
I’ve had a history of problems with both my knees from running and mountain biking accidents. One mountain bike accident found me airborne at 50mph and landing on my right knee. The impact rotated my pelvis and caused a slight leg length discrepancy. My left shoulder has been dislocated a couple of times and it always hurts when I overwork it. As a Physical Therapist, I’m my own worst patient. :)
I got a cup of coffee with the complimentary continental breakfast. You know those are the worst and cheapest breakfasts’ ever. Anyway, after I drank the coffee, I filled the empty Styrofoam cup with water and put it in the freezer. Oh yeah, the room has a small fridge with a freezer and a microwave. Later I can tear some of the cup away from the ice and use that for an ice massage to my left knee.
Hobbling over to the grocery store I was constantly reminded about going up and down curbs with a hurt leg. Up with the good and down with the bad. I stood at the magazine rack reading magazines when I realized I got a big caffeine buzz from that small cup of coffee. I haven’t had any caffeine in over a week, and caffeine has always been my daily addiction.
I bought a phone card, skin lotion, and small zip lock bags to put the “cup of soups” in. Yesterday evening I bought quite a few soups that come in their own cup and I transferred these to the zip lock bags. I also got some instant mashed potatoes, “Vigo” flavored rice (those are sooo good), Oatmeal and powdered Gatorade.
I went for a swim in the pool and then went back inside to ice my knee some more. Lynn called while I was watching TV and offered to pick me up and said I could use her computer to access my e-mail and submit my journal entries. KEWL!! :)
She picked me up about 12:30 and we drove to the KOA and got a guide to all the KOA campgrounds across the US and drove to the lake for a view. We then went to her cabin, which is on the lake and is very nice. She lives in a small group of log cabins in a small wooded area. The whole place here seems quaint and peaceful by the water. We spent the afternoon hanging out in her cabin. I e-mailed my journal entries while Lynn studied. She’s Canadian and will be taking a test soon for her citizenship. We then sat outside for a little while and talked. That was until I wimped out because I was getting a bit chilly with the sun setting and the cool breeze.
Lynn treated me to pizza at a local pizza place and we discussed the area here. She reinforced what I heard before about Belle Glade and Pahokee, Miami would be much safer to bike through. We talked about the different personalities (what I call rednecks) in south Florida and how she came to live here. She’s traveled to many places including all over Europe and has found where she is now to be comfortable at this time in her life. This home is the one constant in her life right now. She has 2 grown kids and some grandkids as well.
I hope I get to meet more people like Lynn on this trip. Although I was initially skeptical, after our phone conversation, this turned out to be a good stop on my trip. She has a very dynamic and animated personality, a truly sincere, caring and wonderful person. Once we began talking about people and life in general it was hard to find a stopping point. Lynn seems to be a talker much like myself. She dropped me off at my motel room and I showed her my bike, trailer and some of the gear I was using on this journey. We said goodbye to each other and I was on my way. I will be meeting her friend Sally at the cyber-cafe in the morning.
DAY 8 – March 22, 1999
Sleeping in later than expected, I didn’t get to Sally’s until 7:30 am for breakfast. I ate a blueberry bagel and then used her internet access to send another e-mail for yesterdays journal entry.
After finishing on the computer I went to pay and Sally didn’t charge me for the bagel or internet access time. She was a pleasant lady to talk to, and we talked about her wanting to ride; but was afraid of these roads and the traffic. I said goodbye and took a picture before I left. Going back outside I noticed my bike had fallen over and my light was in pieces scattered all over the sidewalk.
I gathered all the pieces and put them in my handlebar bag and hit the road.
Okeechobee turned out to be a good visit, even though the hotel did set me back $120.00. I really need to stick with cheap camping!
Following 98 north there was a shoulder to ride on until 20 miles into my ride. Ugh… it’s déjà vu… the shoulder stopped right at the Highlands County line. Now I find myself riding the white line for the next 25 miles. Many of the big trucks refuse to get over, even without any oncoming traffic. The speed limit is 60 mph and they speed past at 65 -70 mph, less than a foot from me, sometimes just inches to spare. With each pass I grip my handlebars tightly to maintain control of my bike as the huge gust of wind hits me. I pedal hard and fast as my knuckles get white from maintaining the death grip on my handlebars.
I now know that the best route would’ve been to stay on 1 to 27. Many others said it was a good safe route and I should’ve listened. And Miami would’ve been much safer than Belle Glade and Pahokee, those images are still in my head and I can’t believe I biked through there without getting robbed or shot. Highway 27 appears after 45 miles of riding and I now have a shoulder… thank God! I rode through Sebring and went to Highlands Hammocks State Park.
It’s just a couple of miles off 27, down Hammock Road.
The park ranger was not very friendly and seemed to have a bit of an attitude. He gave me directions to the primitive camping area and I rode a mile on a dirt road into the woods. There was no one else there and I was all alone in this part of the park. My camelback worked great as a makeshift shower. I cleaned up and then washed the clothes I was wearing. Then I sat at a picnic table and fixed my broken light.
It is so peaceful right now with only the sounds of birds around. The air is dry and not even the slightest breeze blowing.
I never looked at the time for the rest of the afternoon and didn’t even think about my plans for the next day. I was strictly in the here and now with my mind cleared from thoughts of past or future. While sitting on the ground in front of my trailer, a slight breeze begins to blow. As this wind begins to get a bit stronger, a small dust devil forms about ten feet away from me. Then as quickly as it happened, it was gone. I was feeling in tune with these intrinsic surroundings as time seemed to stop.
Prior to going to sleep I soaked a handkerchief in water and wrapped it on my left knee. Since there was no ice, I used this method to cool it down. And when the water evaporated it helped draw some heat out and reduce the little bit of swelling in it.
Today – 57.83 miles
Total – 358 miles
DAY 9 – March 23, 1999
Waking up after sunrise, I took my time getting ready. Had 1 powerbar for breakfast and got on the road at 10 am and headed north on 27. It was a very nice ride with plenty of tailwind. Passing all those orange trees along the way I finally gave in to temptation. I stopped, picked an orange, and sat by my bike and ate it.
As I got close to Lake Wales, and my exit for 60 west, the wind begins to change a little. Woooo Hooooo the wind gods are on my side today!! As I head west on 60 I continue to have perfect tailwinds. This part of 60 is newly paved and has a good shoulder to ride on. Then after a few miles I pass the road workers and the new pavement ends, and so does the shoulder! Ahhhhh! Not again! I ride the white line and hope for the best. My knuckles turn white as I grip the handlebars and focus on this bumpy white line. I pedal as fast as I possibly can just to get this over with. My speedometer is now reading 23 mph which is really fast for me with a loaded bike. I maintain this speed and keep pushing myself as I feel the adrenaline coursing through me. If I can just survive this! I keep thinking… “What the hell am I doing on a major 4-lane highway with no shoulder… I’m surely going to die!” My mind just kept pushing my legs to work harder and faster. More semi’s blowing by with only inches to spare.. My bike wobbles as each gust of wind blasts me with the passing trucks. Then after 6 miles of this non-stop push, new pavement appears with a shoulder. I had to stop for a couple of minutes, that 6-miles really drained me, even though I was mentally prepared to maintain that for 15 – 20 miles into the next town.
Arriving in Bartow, I discovered that there are no campgrounds here. I only went 52.87 miles and still had plenty of energy to go farther, but I didn’t want to arrive in Tampa at dark. I checked into a run down Budget Inn motel and showered. I proceeded with my now daily ritual of washing my clothes with me in the shower, then cooked in the room on my camp stove.
Later, I called Kathleen and let her know that I was ahead of schedule. She said her daughter had a softball game tomorrow evening, so it would be good if I could get there by 4pm. That would mean leaving at first light to allow enough time. It looks like about 80 miles and with my current slow pace that would take me about 8 hours.
today- 52.87 miles
total- 411 miles
high today 85 degrees
DAY 10 – March 24, 1999
I got up early and ate a 1/2-cup of oatmeal and left at 6:45 am. There was an early morning mist as the sun was beginning to rise. Continuing west on 60, I could watch the colorful sunrise through my helmet mirror. Stopping at a small convenient store after riding about and hour, I bought a granola bar to eat now, and 3 powerbars for later. There was a shoulder most of the way except for where they were still doing some road construction. One section they re-routed 60W and merged it with 60E to form one 2-lane road while they were doing bridge construction.
The lanes were very narrow with those barrier walls on each side. Absolutely no room for me and a car to pass me. But this was my only choice, so I waited for a break in traffic and then biked it as fast as I could. About halfway there was a small clearing on the right. As soon as I got to it I hit my brakes and ducked into that area pressing myself against the wall as the traffic sped by. Then with another small break in traffic I finished my way across with a semi nippin’ at my rear wheel.
The shoulder disappeared a few miles before entering Brandon and I had to ride the white line again. In Brandon I felt safer riding the sidewalks until the shoulder re-appeared. Riding through Tampa was very easy, except for a couple of places where the right lane exits off and I had to cross two lanes of traffic to stay on 60. One was at the I75 exit and the other was for the Tampa airport exit. Both times I waited for the best clearing in traffic then pedaled as fast as I could across. Meanwhile telling myself “that’s what they make brakes for…. so people can slow down for idiots like me.” hee hee
I biked across the Courtney Campbell bridge and hit the first gas station in Clearwater. I had to clear some water of my own. :) While there I met Mark, an exceptionally nice guy that was very interested in my trip. We talked for about 20 minutes and I gave him the web address so he could get updated as I ride.
Arriving at Kathleen’s around 1pm (70.62 miles), I was much earlier than I or she expected. I showered and we talked a bit about the PT profession and her private practice. Her two girls, Amanda and Allison came home from school and Amanda was kind enough to fix me a peanut butter sandwich. When Kathleen’s husband, David, got home everyone got ready for tonight’s softball game (Amanda and Allison play on the same team).
It ended up being a very exciting game with Amanda and Allison’s team making a comeback from losing at 5-1 to a tie game at 6-6. woooo hooooo What a great time at the ball field :) Afterwards, Amanda and Allison had pizza and Kathleen, David and I had vegetable lasagna. WOW! That was good!! I was very hungry and ate 3 servings of lasagna, several breadsticks, a salad and a beer. I was trying not to eat too much and forced myself to eat slowly…. but when you’re that hungry and the food is that good, it was hard to contain myself. :) Actually, I tried to contain myself once, but I escaped hee hee. OK some stupid humor in my journal.
After dinner I tried to maintain a conversation and stay as awake as long possible. But by 11:30 I was really giving out after a long day. So I headed off to dreamland :)
Today – 70.62 miles
Total – 481 miles
Temp – 80 degrees Fahrenheit
DAY 11 – March 25, 1999
I made it up and into the kitchen at about 6:30 am. Kathleen and I sat and drank a cup of coffee while discussing the route I’ll be taking in the morning. Soon, everyone was gone for the day. Kathleen went to teach I Chi (a form of Tai Chi but in water) and then she was going to the clinic. David went to work and the girls were off to school. All alone now, I decided to get caught up on my journal and e-mail them to Jeanette (Imp).
Then, I walked a mile to Eckerds to have my film developed. $60.00!! WOW! This will be expensive, taking pictures of the whole trip! Then I went to Publix Grocery Store and bought some more Met-Rex food bars, shampoo, and 200-speed film. The shampoo was needed because I left mine in the shower of the last campground….that’s the second time I’ve done that, so far. I’ve always used 100-speed film and a tripod with my camera, but last night I had poor luck taking photos at the ballgame. I decided not to bring my tripod on this trip and I usually only shoot in daylight. I’ve decided to sacrifice a bit in detail and clarity, for a faster film, so I bought 200 speed. I was really disappointed in myself for not being able to take some good pictures. The other problem is the f5.6 lens I’m using, so I really do need the 200-speed film for low light and evening pictures. I returned from the store and went out to the garage where my bike was parked. I replaced the tubes even though there was nothing wrong with the ones I had…..I just wanted to use the ones I’d purchased in Key Largo. Just as I was finishing up, Kathleen got home with the girls. The four of us went to the bike shop and I purchased another bike shirt. I had intended to bring two along but I only had one, so I was washing it out every evening to wear the next day. After that, we went to Target so the girls could look at some stuff there. I wandered back to the camping supplies to look for a small area light to hang in my tent. The smallest one I could find was a Coleman “Kids Light”. Perfect! Since I’m just a Big Kid :-) We returned to Kathleen’s and she showed me the Osteoporosis program she developed. She is working out the final details to get it published in a peer-review journal! For dinner, David cooked the most incredible meal! He used his “Green Egg” smoker/grill and fixed chicken breasts, portabella mushrooms, and whole onions. I ate 1 and a half pieces of chicken, rice, mushrooms, a whole onion, and….drank a beer. That was Sooo Good! Everything was seasoned and tender. Even after all that, I was still hungry but I didn’t want to make a pig of myself :-) After dinner, David worked on cleaning the pool and hot tub while Kathleen and I Talked. We flipped through the latest “PT Bulletin” and still can’t believe what has happened to the Physical Therapy profession. There used to be hundreds and hundreds of jobs listed nationwide. Now there are only 2 pages of job listings, and most of those are part-time. Before going to sleep I ate one of my food bars to satisfy my hunger :-)
Today – 0 miles
Total – 481 miles
DAY 12 – March 26, 1999
This morning I had a special treat….I climbed the grapefruit tree in the backyard and picked a nice big grapefruit. It was very sweet and still tasted very good for being so late in the season. I believe November it the best time to pick grapefruit.
Kathleen and I drank a cup of coffee and talked about Ayruveda Medicine and alternative healing methods. Later, we quickly reviewed Strain-Counter-Strain Method. This is one of the treatments I’ve been giving to my left knee. We also went over the “Sun-Salutation” yoga method. I was unsuccessful in this one as, Princess, their dog, kept licking my face. :-) While I finished getting my things together, Kathleen sent some work-related email. Then we both rode to the Pinnellas County Trail. It was raining a bit so we waterproofed my handlebar bag and trailer with garbage bags. The trail was a nice ride and, for about 25 miles, I never had to worry about traffic. Kathleen stayed with me for the first 5 or six miles. This was the first time I had someone riding with me. It was very enjoyable having company, and someone to talk to. When it was time for her to turn around, we hugged and said goodbye….I felt alone :-( But off I went. All alone now, I kept thinking about how much I wanted to turn around and go back…and stay one more day. But I didn’t, I had to be on my way.
After riding a few miles my lonely feeling subsided. Then Gene pedals up beside me and strikes up a conversation. Gene has been a “Roadie” for years and wanted to know about my journey. We rode together and talked for about an hour. Although we kept a very slow pace, and I lost some time, I didn’t care. Gene was nice to talk to and he seemed to share some of the same philosophies of life as I do. We discussed the gear I’m taking and about getting lonely on a solo trip like this. I told him I have a Walkman to help out. I bought it after hearing stories about South Dakota – being on long, desolate roads, that will test your sanity. He discouraged the use of it and said it was a No-No with “the club.” “You could get tarred and feathered” he said amusingly. I’ve decided to use it only in isolated areas and not in traffic. Gene also recommended that I get with National Public Radio (NPR) to cover the story of my ride. He told me about a guy that rode across the country and the NPR followed him with reports along the way. This could be a great way to inspire others, like myself, that have never gone on a long bike ride before. Gene also recommended a book that the guy wrote titled “Blue Highways.” When he was ready to turn off the trail we exchanged email addresses and he told me I could call him collect anytime while I’m on my trip. Then he said that he would try to contact someone from NPR to get some coverage.
I followed the rest of the trail and kept thinking about “media coverage.” I never wanted to do this trip for any cause or get any sponsors. And I really didn’t want to draw a lot of attention to myself. This ride is just for me…to enjoy the experiences life has to offer me along the way. But, if I can be an inspiration to at least get other people out riding a bike for exercise, then that would be OK. The trail ended and I hit the dreaded Highway 19. It was difficult getting across but I managed. And there was a shoulder to ride on. There was a lot of construction and the shoulder became choppy. It was very rough and bumpy, like riding on a washboard. At one point I heard a “POP” :-( When I looked back at my trailer, I saw some punk kid with a pistol-looking cap gun shooting at me from the passenger seat of a car. Pop..pop…pop…. He just kept firing away as they passed… What a #!@$? punk! And if another car rides up beside me and blasts their horn, I’m going to have to kick a dent in it! Well, I won’t, but Geeezzz….with that happening daily, and many times just today, it can really get to you.
At Weeki Wachee there was new pavement and a shoulder to ride on. I rode on to Momosassa Springs and was really tired. This has been a difficult day for me. Two days prior, I had gone 70 miles and still felt great and had energy to spare. But today, my whole body felt fatigued and my butt was unusually sore. My knees didn’t bother me at all…just my sore Butt! Ouch!! It was almost 5pm and I didn’t feel like looking for a campground, much less setting up my tent, so I stopped at a cheap motel – “The 3 Rivers Motel.” There were two older ladies that just pulled up as I was entering the parking lot. The door was locked so they rang a buzzer located beside a sliding glass window. A lady appeared at the window. After questioning the ladies, she asked what I wanted. I told her I needed a room. She glared at my bike and trailer and then rudely told me “I’m all out of rooms.” And this is a motel with only two cars in the parking lot!
So I biked a couple of miles to the Ramada Inn. Going inside, I saw the two ladies from the previous motel registering for a room. They said they were here because that lady was rude and they didn’t like the way she treated me. I checked into my room, fixed a cup of soup, and then went to sleep…
Today – 75.77 miles
Total – 557 miles
DAY 13 – March 27, 1999
It was a tough morning to get out of bed since I still felt fatigued from yesterday. Moving around slowly, I finally gathered my things and hit the road at 8:45 AM. I was forcing myself to ride today with a very sore butt and sore legs. And, to make things a bit more challenging for me, I had headwinds all day. The only tailwind I had was the wind coming from my own tail :) Hee…Hee…Hee… Just kidding… I don’t ever do those things ;) The temp was 58 degrees and boy was I cold! Just when I was getting used to those very warm days it has to go and get cold on me.
There was a shoulder for most of Highway 19, up until Inglis. After riding 18 miles to Inglis, I stopped at a convenience store where I was welcomed by frowns and stares. As I made my way to the bathroom I smiled at a policeman, but he ignored my gesture and headed for the coffee machine. While in the bathroom I noticed several redneck comments on the wall, like this one: “We got plenty of rope.” Looking around the store I was unable to find a Granola Bar, which I was craving. I got a PowerAde and then asked for a cinnamon roll from behind the glass at the counter. Not feeling very comfortable here, I decided to try and talk to the cashier and see if I could get a positive response. Well, she was actually a very nice lady and was a bit excited about my ride. She exclaimed to a co-worker, “he’s ridin’ a two wheeler to Alaska!” Initially she was requesting a post card from Alaska, but when she found out about the website, she said she’d try to find internet access to follow my trip. Leaving the store I was in much better spirits that when I entered. I continued north on 19 and this is where the shoulder ended. Now I’m becoming accustomed to riding the white line and immune to the traffic zipping by inches from me. A car gets beside me and blasts their horn. Ahhhh!!!… That drives me crazy! I feel a bit of rage building up each time a car does that. Continuing my ride north, I was thinking about how quickly my emotions have changed. Only a few miles back, I was in a good mood leaving that store. It seems crazy that I could let another person control my emotions and make me so negative. The rest of the ride was difficult with headwinds and not feeling 100 percent today. I stopped several times to stretch and take breaks along the way. Arriving at Manatee Springs State Park at 3:45 PM, I paid $11.77 and set up camp. I fixed black beans and rice, wrote in my journal, then went to sleep.
Today – 63.52 miles
Total – 621 miles
DAY 14 – March 28, 1999
I awoke to a very cold morning – 38 degrees F. Brrr… It was another slow moving morning for me. I managed to get everything together and put on an extra layer of clothes. Unfortunately, I was unable to find my full-fingered, cold-weather riding gloves and glove liners. The tips of my fingers were numb and bitterly cold as I biked into town wearing my regular biking gloves. It was 7 miles back to 19. I didn’t really like going out of my way a total of 14 miles, but it’s cheaper than motels.
Arriving in town, I called Kathleen to see if I left my gloves there. Having not seen them, I decided I need to get another pair. I called my Mom’s and asked my Step-Dad to order me another pair of the REI Concept 2000 cold weather bike gloves and glove liners from rei.com. After he gets them he can mail them to me up the road.
As I continued up 19, the temp was getting warm quickly. When it got warm enough I shed a layer of clothes and continued riding the white line. When I approached a sign that said “Perry 26 Miles”, a shoulder appeared. Wooo Hooo!! Now that I’m riding on a shoulder, I could feel the tension leave my body. It’s so much more enjoyable not having to constantly focus on the traffic in my mirror.
After passing a couple of miles from a small, nothing town called Salem, I heard a yell and looked to see someone waving me down. It was an older, overweight guy, standing in front of a trailer on what appeared to be a big commercial lot. I rode along the fence and in through the gate to meet him. He introduced himself as “Smitty” and was kind enough to offer a place to stay. I parked my bike and Smitty told me about a Canadian cyclist that is staying there on the property. He yells for Ed and I see a bald guy wearing shorts and a t-shirt appear from a trailer about 100′ from Smitty’s trailer. Ed introduces himself and Smitty hands us a beer. We discussed each other’s rides and routes. Ed began in Montreal and headed east across Canada, then south to San Diego, and followed the southern border of the U.S. He plans on going further south into Florida then head north along the east coast back home to Montreal. Ed started his trip with panniers but added a B.O.B trailer in California. Now he has both, and a lot of weight.
During our conversation about cycling, Smitty kept interrupting and giving his advice on the best route to take. Smitty used to be a truck driver and now, at 58, lives on disability. I didn’t mind his suggestions, but he was so insistent that I change my route to his way, that he became annoying very quickly. He would spend 20 minutes explaining why going through a different state would be better, constantly repeating himself over and over. Then he would run into his trailer to keep checking on the NASCAR race on TV and bring out more beer. On offering me a third beer, I didn’t want to accept, but Smitty seemed to take it as an insult…so I drank another. Then he proceeded to try and sell me any piece of junk he had. From an old, tattered, highway workers vest to wear while riding, to a fold up chair I could attach to my trailer and take along to sit on while camping. He was very persistent in trying to sell me something. I just kept thanking him and explained…I don’t need these things.
Ed asked me if I’d been doing any “wild camping” and told me stories of his own wild camping experiences. Up until now it’s been campgrounds, motels, and staying with friends, for me. I haven’t been adventurous enough to try any wild camping in the woods. Smitty soon started talking about the Moose Lodge and how I needed to be a member. He said “they got Moose Lodges everywhere and can be a safe haven for you.” I wasn’t too keen on being a Moose member but he was so persistent. Smitty wanted me to call my parents back home and see if they could arrange it through a local Moose Lodger in my hometown. He wanted to speak to my Step-Dad to tell him his plan on how to get me a membership. Since he had no phone, I reluctantly agreed to ride with him to a pay phone later and make the call.
Ed tactfully breaks off the conversation by inviting me over to eat and take a shower in the trailer he’s staying in. While in the shower, I could hear Smitty talking to Ed…Geeez! He followed us over here, doesn’t he ever go away!? After Ed finished fixing something to eat he said, “Now we eat in quiet.” Smitty got the hint and left. While eating, Ed and I talked about the road and he stressed “You must be positive.” I told him that I’d heard places like South Dakota could test your sanity. Seemingly endless roads with a constant, unchanging landscape of prairies. Ed tells me those are the best places, all alone in the middle of nowhere. “You must have the right mind,” he says, as he taps on his head. I’m informed that cycling alone like that is not for everyone and you must really enjoy what you are doing. You have to love being on the bike and not do this solely for a cause or just to be able to say you did it. Don’t think about the future or the past, just right now. And enjoy everything around you while you cycle. Ed is a 57 year old retired teacher from Montreal. He has one son and one daughter, both in their twenties. His primary language is French and he has some difficulty with some of the English phrases. When asked how he can handle being around people like Smitty, he said “It just goes past me, I don’t let it in here.” (pointing at his head)
Smitty appeared at the door and was upset that we didn’t go get him as soon as we were done eating. He is noticeably drunk as the three of us get into his car. Smitty flies down the dark road in the black night while drinking a beer and hiccuping while trying to talk. He had one hand on the wheel, the other holding a beer and not looking at the road much as he turned around while attempting some sort of intelligible speech. I thought that after surviving most of Friday by bike, I would die in a drunk driving accident. He pulls into the parking lot of a small redneck bar and I though “Oh shit, what am I getting myself into!” We go inside a very dimly lit bar, where Ed and I are greeted by stares, we surely did not fit in. Smitty heads for the bathroom and Ed says “One beer then we go.” While drinking the beer, Smitty says, “There’s a pay phone in the corner so you can make your call, and let me talk to him.” I make the call and pre-warn my Step-Dad about this guy and tell him to just agree with him, even though we had no intention of signing me up as a Moose member. But I had to do this because there is no telling what Smitty would do considering his pathological psychosis and the fact that he owns a gun. So I hand the phone to Smitty he says some stuff and then I get back on and say a few words as Smitty goes and sits back down.
I heard someone talking real loud approaching the payphone making some obnoxious comments directed toward me, and then I heard Smitty say “Hey, don’t mess with him” (talking about me), “he’s on a bike ride from Florida to Alaska.” I got off the phone to see a very drunk 6’6″ guy wanting to use the phone.
After the phone call and our beer, Smitty orders a pitcher. Even though Ed and I told him no more beer. Smitty sits down at the table with the pitcher as Ed’s telling me about his teaching career. Smitty gets mad since he isn’t involved in the conversation and says, “Damn, I can’t even buy your friendship” and starts to get up with the pitcher of beer. Ed and I immediately reach for our beer mugs so he could pour us a beer and then we re-directed the conversation to him. Smitty began talking more about the Moose Lodge. He said the best thing about it was “No Blacks.” He went on to say that the only way they’ll take a black is through Moose Heart and those are black children that they can “program and train to be the way they want them.” I’m feeling very uncomfortable at this point because I find it very difficult to be around prejudice and hatred. Smitty went on to talk about the connections between many of the organizations, like Moose, Elk Lodges, and other secret organizations that no one knows about. Many of these secret societies have been around for hundreds of years and control many things. He is really drunk now and his speech is a bit slurred.
This was very disturbing to listen to since I do not agree with racism or hatred of any kind. I’m more of a pacifist and this place I’m at is the complete antithesis of who I really am. Another challenge to test me and for me to learn something, but what? Maybe how not to dislike this person that I’ve begun to loathe and feel sympathy for him instead.
The best words I’ve heard yet came from the lady behind the bar… “Last call for alcohol.” Yes! It’s almost over! I could have kissed her for that! We made it back and I went to sleep on the couch in the trailer Ed was staying in.
Today – 58.23 miles
Total – 679 miles
DAY 15 – March 29, 1999
I woke up with a headache and a bit hungover. I haven’t been much of a drinker since my college days and one or two beers is usually my limit. I took two Tylenol and had oatmeal for breakfast with Ed.
Bob, the owner of the land, drove up and we all stood outside and talked a bit. Bob was a nice guy to talk to. His manner of speaking had a sharp contrast with Smitty’s. His speech reflected a man of clear, concise thinking, as he told me how he came to live in Florida. He allows Smitty to live there in the trailer in exchange for some labor and allows somebody else to live in a tent “as long as he keeps the property clean.”
At 10 AM, after about 45 minutes of conversation, I was on the road. My knees felt great, my legs were strong, and I felt much better. My average speed riding into Perry was 18 mph. I then headed west on Highway 98. All the trucks on 98 were unbelievable. I couldn’t believe how fast they were driving. As they passed me from behind, the huge wind gusts would thrust me forward then suck me into the road. But when they passed going the other way, the incredible amount of wind tried to lift my helmet off, as the wind gust tried to push me backwards. It was quite a struggle because I would speed up, then slow down… Speed up, then slow down, etc. Then the shoulder disappeared, but I held my ground, no matter what! I quit looking in my mirror and just rode. That was until I heard brakes behind me. Checking my mirror, I saw a big RV not able to get over because of oncoming traffic and not able to slow down soon enough. The guy came less than a foot from plowing me over when I ditched the bike into the shoulder.
Stopping at a small convenience store near the border of Jefferson and Taylor counties, I bought a PowerAde and a turkey sub. The cashier warned me of all the fast moving trucks. “They think they’re all in a race out there.” While eating my turkey sandwich outside I noticed a painting on the outside wall of the store. It showed a speeding truck driver plowing down a car. I only wondered if these truck drivers were proud of their reckless, dangerous, driving.
I hopped on 267 at Newport and rode into the Appalachicola National Forest for my first night of “wild camping.” After passing the national forest sign I turned onto a small dirt road and set up camp about 200 yards off 267. Again I used my camelback as a shower but I didn’t have enough water to wash my clothes too. I decided to wear my alternate pair of bike clothes tomorrow and wash both tomorrow night.
It had been a warm and humid 80-degree afternoon. After getting clean, I took a nap until dark. When I woke up I was hungry but didn’t feel like getting out and walking far from the tent to cook. Cooking by the tent would attract critters, I opted to eat dry oatmeal out of the container. I went to sleep with the sounds of some kind of bird and what sounded like a wolf’s howl.
Today – 73.07 miles
Total – 752 miles
Temp – 80 degrees and humid
DAY 16 – March 30, 1999
I woke up to a gloomy, cloudy morning, and thought for sure it would rain. At 9AM I was back on 267 and followed it to 20 west. There were plenty of tailwinds all morning as I headed west. By now, I’m really finding out that the wind does not blow east most of the time. Prior to my departure on this trip, I studied the wind direction and speed statistics for major US cities since 1939. Since starting this trip, two people have told me that I was going in the wrong direction due to the winds. Everyone seems to believe you need to ride west to east, but that’s not true. I’ve also noticed that the wind direction in the afternoon is usually different than the direction in the morning. So if you don’t like the morning wind, just wait….it’ll probably get better in the afternoon. As for as Florida to Alaska, or Alaska to Florida, the route is more vertical than horizontal on the map. So even if the west to east contention was true, a route like this in either direction would have more crosswinds than tailwinds or headwinds.
When I headed north at Blountstown, I encountered some crosswinds due to the winds blowing east to west. The road begins to get hilly, which is somewhat challenging since I’m used to all flat land so far. I followed 71 north to 90 west into Mariana. Then I had to ride three miles through the hilliest terrain yet. Ugh…It was tough. Upon arriving at Florida Caverns State Park, I was informed that all campsites were full. The lady was not very pleasant, probably because of all the tourists that come through here. I had to pedal the three miles back to 90 through the hills again. While doing 30 mph on a downhill, with no shoulder, a big truck tried to pass me. I thought for sure the orange cones, stacked on a mount sticking out from the truck, were going to plow me down. It was either the phone or electric company with a big white truck that had one of those things on top to lift someone up to the top of a pole. This was the closest yet I’ve come to being hit, and the closest yet; I’ve come to being tempted to use my finger at him. Next time I will ride the middle of the lane and make him wait. I will also call from a pay phone before going out of my way to a state park.
Heading back west on 90, I rode a couple of miles and found a cheap motel, $35.04 with tax. The lady was very pleasant and talkative. She made me feel very welcome and put the smile back on my face that was missing….
Today – 78.24 miles
Total – 831 miles
DAY 17 – March 31, 1999
Maybe I was thinking too much about the predicted heavy rain for today. When I woke up, I came out of a dream where I was struck by lightning on both forearms. They were charred black…Weird dream! The night I slept in the forest I dreamed of getting Poison Ivy on both legs.
Anyway, with the rain predicted for one day only, I decided to take a day off. The lady at the front desk said Winn Dixie was two blocks down the road. I decided to walk there this morning before the rain started. So I walked…and walked…and walked, until finally, after two miles, I found the Winn Dixie. It was a very windy and cloudy morning. While checking out at the register I noticed that the rain had started coming down outside, so I walked the two miles back to the motel in the rain :-( “Oh! Did I say two blocks? I meant two miles,” is what I heard when I arrived back at the motel.
I returned to my room soaked. This was a very boring day for me. I hated it! I couldn’t explore the town because of all the rain. All I did was watch TV and eat all day! I should have just biked in the heavy wind and rain. It was driving me crazy just watching TV and eating all day.. TV, eat, TV, eat, TV, eat……
Today – nada
DAY 18 – April 1, 1999
What’s up with all these crazy dreams? This time I found myself in the desert of Egypt exploring a network of underground passages. I uncovered some very large ants, about 3 feet long, that were long since dead and preserved in the sand. Too Weird!
I checked out at 8 AM. It was a cool, wet, misty 65-degree morning. As I biked, the mist kept getting my glasses wet, making it difficult to see. Remembering something Ed, the Canadian, told me, I was not wearing my sunglasses today. “Sunglasses can take away from the natural beauty and colors.” And since I really don’t need them in the morning, only afternoons while headed west, I was wearing my regular prescription glasses. I guess this is where contacts would be an advantage.
The hills were becoming steeper and more frequent. My max speed coasting downhill was 35.5 mph, and that was a bit scary with my trailer wobbling a little. My route led me from 73 to 231 North, and then to 2 West. And again, usually no shoulder to ride on. But it had very little traffic and was a nice ride. Especially through Graceville, so may flowers and the fresh smells. Ahhh…..
Approaching Graceville from 2, I passed some nice homes with well-manicured lawns and lots of trees. I could hear the birds chirping and with little traffic…it was a pleasant morning. The Dogwood tree was prevalent through here and I first started seeing them just prior to entering the Appalachicola National Forest. I tried to take some pictures but the mode select switch messed up on my Canon A2. It was stuck in the lock position. Now I wasn’t too happy at that point, but I decided that I could just get those cheapy disposable cameras while I send it back to Canon for a rush repair on it.
I followed 2 west to 79 and headed north into Alabama.
Day 18 continuing……in Alabama :-)
Today (in Florida) – 34.22 miles
Total (so far) – 865 miles