Friday, August 31, 2012

And 920 miles by Greyhound . . .

Before talking about my Greyhound adventure I need to 'splain what's happening.

My bike was supposed to be disassembled and shipped to Bikes and More. It arrived at my home. Argh! Now I was faced with having to get it to where it needed to be. Additionally, there were no wheels! <sigh> Island Bikes, to whom I initially expressed great frustration allowed as how it was their error, but that agreeing to disassemble and package the bike was the first error. Getting the bike to my FNBS will be accomplished soon. They received my wheels and agreed with all previous observations that the rear one was broken more severely than was typical. It no rests with Salsa, manufacturer of the rim, to decide how to handle the matter.

The Schwinn is serving well, though lack of fenders is close to being a severe problem. I'd forgotten how nasty road grit gets when it rains. I hope to find some closure for the transportation matters soon.

And the roof leaks. Have to deal with the roofers, too . . . soon, I hope. 
Was it a life changing event? No, but there have been many things to consider how they may or may not apply to everyday life. But first, a word from our sponsor . . . Greyhound

The last time I rode a Greyhound bus may have been nearly a half century ago in the 60s. There were few options for my return to FL and Greyhound seemed to be the best. In the years since my last ride many things have changed. Remarkably, much has not.

The nearest “terminal” was Washington, NC, known as Little Washington to the locals. A three hour drive (give or take). The nearer pick-up location was just that, a pick-up. Stand outside a store and wait, ticket in hand, for a bus to arrive. I opted for the stop at B & L Properties where tickets could be purchased. Seemed more like a terminal. It was, but barely.

B & L may have been the couple behind the counter when I arrived at 10am for my 1050 bus. A partially converted service station (with two bays) provided indoor seating. Assorted vehicles and other equipment in stages of repair filled the service bays. My bags were labeled and the second bag paid for ($10 please) after being told to clip one front roller to one back roller so I would not have to pay for three extra bags. Seemed like good advice. The bus arrived 55 minutes late. It had been three hours late the previous day. A connection was scheduled for Raleigh at 3 pm and we were to arrive there at 2 pm, so maybe the connection would be made.

I was surprised to find that there were both 100 volt sockets and that the bus provided a WiFi signal and took advantage to charge my cell phone. Because of the WiFi connection I was also able to maintain cellular coverage where it would not have existed otherwise.

The bus passed through the home of the East Carolina University Pirates and it was no surprise that it resembled Stateboro, GA, home ot the Georgia Southern Eagles and El Sombrero, home of my favorite Mexican food. We arrived in Raleigh minute before 3 pm, but it mattered not. A bus already at the terminal (a real terminal) was being searched for a possible bomb. This must have been a common occurrence as there was police presence but little overt evidence of concern. The new bus departed at 345pm, but not until the baggage handler took exception to my bags. “I know what you did,” he hissed. “But I’ll load ‘em.” And he did with an intention aggressive disregard.

Soon after leaving the Raleigh terminal the drive announced that the bus was a local, meaning we would visit, briefly, every moderate sized city in north and central NC. He also made several allusions to the presidential race, noting that whites were attempting to keep blacks from voting. Maybe I had been alone too long. His rambling monologue made little sense.

Charlotte, too, was a real terminal. Like Raleigh and it was run down but clean. Sandwiches priced no more than twice their reasonable value. Captive audience means captive money. A strip of sockets, identified as a charging station, soon looked like a Smart Phone grazing area. Few people showed any concern about their equipment’s safety. Obviously, this was not a new experience for the majority of bus travelers.

From Charlotte the ride to ATL was swift, arriving around 230am. I expected the old Greyhound station, but found that it now existed as part of the Garnett Street MARTA facility. My stay here would be about 4 hours. Knowing I was closer to being home did not make the wait any easier. Compared to the old Atlanta bus terminal . . . no comparison. Clean. Bright. Reasonably safe with one or more MARTA and ATL police officers in evidence. At intervals over the hours, travelers would queue at numbered doors. The overly large police officer would run a metal detection wand near their pockets. I could hear no difference in sound, but he often paused and asked for pockets to be emptied. Don’t want anyone commandeering a Greyhound with a fingernail file. Wait, maybe I need to be more serious! Hard to be. After 430 am he checked no one else. Had the perceived threat left for Alabama earlier on the morning?

The trip to G’ville was uneventful and done on schedule. The bus had sockets and WiFi, but I was too weary to do more than charge my phone. I could do the ATL-Gville trip again. Most of the rest? Not in this lifetime.

Here are some of the things I took away from the numerous hours in the custody of Greyhound:

  1. Passengers are too accustomed to being treated with little regard. Some of this is because of the quality of the passengers. Most is not. Who cares about bus travelers. Real people use airplanes. Common people learn to accept mediocre treatment because there is no recourse? Like the baggage guy. I did what I was told to do and he assumed I was trying to get away with something. Should I respect that he was protecting his company’s assets? Only if he referred me to the baggage people for more money. Otherwise he was just being difficult.
  2. Lacking any actual luggage one can still travel by bus. A tall kitchen trash can and a mostly intact cardboard box can be nearly closed with sufficient tape to hold just about anything.
  3.  Having too many pieces of “luggage” is commonplace. See the comment above.
  4.  There is almost enough room on the aisle seat on modern buses to make it nearly possible to sleep for as much as an hour, though not necessarily in concurrent minutes.
  5.  If it is present Greyhound WiFi works.

Just more of the adventure.

Monday, August 27, 2012

What day is it anyhow?

Quitting wasn’t all that hard. There were too many obstacles I did not want to confront. My planning was not adequate. I may have carried too much and distributed improperly. Once I admitted that it was easier to see that I was likely to encounter more of the same and breaking down where there was not a bike shop wasn’t something I wanted to face yet. The only thing I can be sure of in the future is I am more than physically capable of the ride. I wasn't the weak link.

Riding a loaded touring bike isn’t just about how it rides and whether you can make it up hills. Eating each evening did not require having a stove and fuel and dried food. Using a tent was easy enough, but there were many things I did not consider, like the nastiness of some commercial sites. Had I  not been the only tenter at one location I might have had even greater difficulties when I determined that the “restroom” door could not be closed if I used it. Standing or sitting! Certainly not a game breaker under the circumstances of that evening, but worth knowing and considering next time.

The next time (yes, there will be a next time) I will carry at least 950 miles of knowledge. Not a lifetime, but a good foundation. Local trips will add to the database. Knowing what should go where to avoid overloading is something that I guess comes with experience, too.

The next months will be filled with contemplation and new planning. That’s the only certainty.

OK, there is one more certainty. No more Greyhound rides. My bus ride day began at 6 am and ended at 430 pm the following day. Three buses and untotaled miles. That story deserves a whole page to itself. For now, thanks for caring and following and encouraging. Now it is time to decide how next to handle someone my age.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Day 16, Buxton and Avon, NC

My adventure became much more than that. I wanted to make a statement about being 66 and still able to push myself to accomplish something extreme. As the miles passed and I became comfortable with the mechanics of riding I had an abundance of free time. Much of the scenery was, at most, tedious or boring, so thought came unbidden and disappeared like the last piney wood. One theme recurred, and I don’t mean to belabor the point, but the significance of Vietnam in my life does not lessen. Then, as mentioned in an earlier posting, I reached Wilmington. From there forward the whole ride developed a different meaning. Yes, it was still about making the round trip and seeing friends and the Skyline Drive and taking a chance on a route of my creation across NC and SC. Still, in some inexplicable way the ride became a metaphor of that Place.

Living in Gainesville puts numerous homeless men in my daily life simply because Randall is an excellent VA Medical facility and there are so damn many. I have no reason to ask why they are homeless. For those of my generation the most common denominator is Vietnam. “So what?” you might ask. Well, as I said previously, I am able to ride while nearly 60,000 men and women cannot.

When my equipment failed I was devastated. Get a new wheel and get back on the road was the obvious response. Yet, there was this coincidence (or irony) that I felt a needed to understand. How symbolic had the ride become to me? I spent a mostly sleepless night debating the meaning.

Did my wheel fail because of a structural flaw? What would I have done if I had been anywhere else on the map? Will I break a second wheel if the reason for breakage was that I was too heavily loaded? Was I physically capable of doing more miles?

I have no doubt about my ability. The ride has done that for me. 50? 80? 100? It’s just a matter of pacing and doing it. I would not have been happy with another failure, no matter the cause and I suspect it was my lack of experience and knowledge that caused the failure. About that word “failure” . . . nothing about 950 miles marks the ride as a failure. And then there is the metaphor. Maybe I need to reflect on the reality that the chances against victory were overwhelming. Maybe the metaphor applies more than I imagine. Maybe there are no coincidences, just lessons to be learned. How many of the nearly 60,000 would not have died if we had accepted that the could be no victory?

So, I decided to cash in, have my bike shipped back home, find a bus station and follow my bike. The East Coast was not yet ready to be conquered by me. I knew too little. I need to learn more about this touring stuff, so I can make the whole trip next time. I have enormous regrets. There are things I wanted to do; stop in Richmond and see Don, visit the Wall again, renew friendships in PA, ride the Skyline Drive, visit SJN, plot my own course and meet more interesting and special people. I do not regret facing the logistic, financial and other pragmatic realities.

At the same time I owe a lot of thanks and appreciation for the encouragement I have received. So, thanks to Karen and Vicki of Jewels by the Sea for helping me get to John and his wife at Island Cycles and Martha who made sure Norma Jean was OK. I owe much to Greg, Joe, Randy, Jeremy, Sonja, Judy, Diana, Kathleen, Silvestre, Janet, Jacob, Kelly, Heather, Kathy and Bernie for putting up with my obsession. Then there are Others like Rick and his smoker compatriots, Carmella and Lucky Lady Bug, and Steve, who can’t count to two, those who keep me on two wheels, most of the time; Christian, Chan, Keith, Dave, Brian, Michael and Paul, those who are mostly voices on the phone, but have always been encouraging; Than, Ken, Margaret, Alexis, Su, and Gaynor. Surely I have forgotten someone and I regret the oversight. The largest thanks is reserved for those who believed and who were misinformed, my brothers and sisters, “Some gave all. All gave some.”

Day 15, Buxton and Avon, NC

Rode to Island Cycles after putting spare tire on battered rim, a distance of about 5 miles.  I had used the Michelin city tire was on briefly before I opted for Marathons. That  brought a spare at all seemed like overkill, but clearly proved to be a good idea.

Island Cycle was busy with rentals initially despite persistent drizzle. John, the co-owner (with his wife) and local bicycle and para-surfing guru, arrived after the initial rush and was highly apologetic. No reason to be. I wasn’t going anywhere! He examined  my rear wheel which Bikes and More had built with my Shimano Deore hub and a Salsa cyclocross rim. His assessment? “I’ve never seen a rim break like that.” In a dozen or so places where the spokes joined the rim the spokes met the rim were cracks, each about an inch long. He said he’d seen similar cracks, but never more than one or two. He had no explanation. We spoke to Keith at Bikes and More. He was prepared to send a rim if one was not available at Island Cycles.

So, the facts are; the wheel is damaged beyond repair, a new rim is available, but not immediately, there is no explanation for the damage and I will be here for a few days.

This started as a germ of an idea several years ago, grew to a mind consuming event and then became reality has become even more. Processing what has become a life changing event is even more consuming than the preparation and anticipation. Just dealing with the coincidence of wheel failure so close to someone I could call upon and to a competent bike shop is enough for one day’s thought.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Day 14, Core Creek to Buxton, NC – 64.15 miles, Total miles, 951

Core Creek Lodge was not my first choice for an overnight. It was my only choice. With basic amenities, which nowadays should include The Weather Channel, it made departing easy this morning. Two problems developed. One, my red blinky light disappeared some where between Newport and Core Creek.. Two, The Weather Channel predicted scattered thunderstorms all day. Doppler radar showed a clearly defined line of rain to the East of the stalled front and the source of unsettled weather along the Carolinas. Lucky me!

Having unpacked very little, repacking was quick and I was able to be back on the road by 6:40. Loss of my blinky light was disconcerting since I anticipated being in rain ranging from steady to blinding. Steady soon arrived. Just short of blinding came later. Fortunately, traffic was relatively light and the paved shoulder was consistently wide. My hope was to reach Cedar Island for the 12:00 ferry to Ocracoke while still having time to stop for carbohydrates. When the near blinding rain arrived I began to doubt I’d make it at all. Ultimately, I missed the 10:00 Sailing by 15 minutes and was able to take the 11:00. One point for my team!

It rained too much and too often to take many pictures and the moment I tried to take pictures of the ferry debarkation point . . . deluge. It persisted up to the moment of boarding. The two and a quarter hour ferry trip leaves a lot of time to consider the next leg. Do I stop in Ocracoke? Do I continue another 2 hours (30 miles or so) to Avon?

Ocracoke Harbor

Leaving the ferry in Ocracoke I realized my rear wheel was making a lot of dragging noises. Looking down and back as I rode it was obviously slightly out of true. Being a new wheel I was disconcerted, but also knew there is a bike shop in Avon. Fourteen miles to the Hatteras Ferry then eighteen and a half miles to Avon. With some effort, I made the 2:30 Hatteras departure and suddenly  had cellular service again. Not good service, but some. In Hatteras proper, beneath a cellular antenna array I called Island Cycles. Yes they could true my wheel, but they close at 5. I had an hour an a half to make it to Avon if I was going to be a responsible patron and not expect the people there to work beyond closing. Could I make 18.5 in 90 minutes? On a good day, probably.

As I rode and time slipped away I realized I did not need the frantic pace, so I stopped and called Karen at Jewels by the Sea who I had promised to stop in to see when I made the trip. Could she call the motel where she said there would be reasonable rates despite it being in-season. Sure, she replied. I called Island Cycle and said I’d bring the bike by in the morning and would still have time to make the ride to Kitty Hawk tomorrow. Now, less encumbered by anxiety I set off at a more reasonable pace. The pace was reasonable but the bounce in each stroke said flat! Argh! And not just a puncture. A slice. Even a Marathon Plus can't handle that!

I called Karen and told her of my woes and asked for name of the motel telling her I’d visit while the wheel was being repaired. She immediately offered to arrange to pick me up and deliver me to the motel in Buxton. “I live in Buxton,” she added. A short time her able associate (and sister-in-law), Vicki, arrived in a large enough sport utility. Minutes later I was checking in and changing to my spare tire.

This isn’t what I planned, but it is part of the adventure. I’ll just have to hope for fair skies and a tail wind for the future.

Day 13, Jacksonville to Core Creek, NC – 72.37 miles, average speed 12.1 mph. Total miles, 887

Jacksonville, NC is the home to Camp Lejeune (Ooo Rah) which, in turn, is home to the US Marine Corps (One, two, three, four, we love Marine Corps). Passing through Jax, NC, was like an escape and evasion exercise. It was necessitated by the easiest route not being accessible to bikes, thus “Turn left at 1.5 miles, right at .5, left at 2.5 . . . “ After escaping Jax it was more of the usual; rural, agricultural.

Adding to the adventure was overcast brought on by impeding thunderstorms. This moderated temperatures and kept sun to a minimum. As I approached Silverdale (one convenience and a vegetable stand the first downpour downpoured. Instead of continuing I stopped just ahead of the atmospheric gush to get a drink. I covered my saddle and stepped into the store. “Excuse me. Do you have a restroom?” Might as well pee when I had the chance. “No.” OK, but I bet behind that door that says “Employees Only” there’s a restroom. Well, I didn’t need to buy more water or Gatorade anyhow. The  rain stopped downpouring and I hit the road again.

Swansboro, Cedar Point, and Cape Carteret were unimpressive visually, but I suspect the fishing is good. To my advantage was a suitable for bikes lane and I made good time against the growing dark clouds to the west and southwest. Rain held off and I reached Newport where I needed some local direction to Core Creek. “You might beat the rain,” suggested one of the gentlemen. I didn’t.

One of the guys who gave me directions mentioned “the high rise.” Forty-five minutes later I learned the meaning. In the rain. Heavy rain. Hold your breath or drown rain. No where to hide rain. And lightning right over THERE! And me on the “high rise.” Aren’t you supposed to get as low as possible when there’s lightning? Who wrote this script?

Shortly before the over-the-high-rise-god-it-is-raining-incredibly-hard-rain started I saw a sign. “Core Creek Lodge. Next Left.” There are no lefts on the bridge, so the next left must be down there at sea level. In the blinding rain. Too-fast-for-conditions cars and trucks. Me on a bike. A glance in my mirror suggested (nothing definitive about the view) that nothing was behind me as I clung to my handlebars at 25 mph on the downside of the bridge (Yes, in the rain. Isn’t that dangerous on a bike? Isn’t being near lightning at 500 feet more dangerous?). OK . . . it wasn’t THAT big a deal. I actually slowed on the shoulder, turned my head and confirmed that the road was clear. Seven-tenths mile later I was checking in for a hot shower. No WiFi. No T-Mobile coverage. But, also no tent and a dry bed.

Tomorrow is the dash for the ferry. I am less than 50 miles from the Cedar Island Ferry. I can catch the one o’clock sailing for the 2.25 hour trip. Next sailing is 4. Up early. Drink my meals and get there.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Day 12, Wilmington, NC to Jacksonville, NC – 51.35 miles, average speed 13.0 mph. Total miles, 814

The day started . . . weirdly. Entering Wilmington took me past the National Cemetery and its rows of starkly plain, white markers. Arlington on a lesser, but no less distressing level. In a week or so I will reach Washington and I intend to visit the Vietnam Memorial. As I started riding I recalled my moderately flippant statement when someone asked if I was riding for a cause, “Because I can,” I replied. This morning, as so often happens, I was reminded of Vietnam and its consequences and its pain and its never ending source of painful recollecti0ns and thoughts.

In the final pages of Hal Moore’s book, We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, he says he feels guilty because his troopers died and he did not. How many times do I feel the same simultaneous gratitude and guilt that I survived yet more than 58,000 men and women did not. How many might have embarked on a similar bicycle trip, or had families, or walked in the woods, or attended baseball games or argued about football or made mistakes, or apologized or cried or died of old age? In July of this year, 45 years had passed since I left Vietnam and never does a day pass that I do not think of those who died and those who did not and the reasons we were there and a myriad of other things about that time.

So, the rest of the trip is a small token directed toward those who died and those who did not. We ravaged a country and we were ravaged in return. Lost our youth. Lost respect of those around us. Hid our fears and feelings. Shared something inexplicable with other vets when we reached for a hand while saying “welcome home.” I don’t resent those who didn’t serve or had high numbers or just lucked out. I do resent those who brag about avoiding the draft by some chicanery. Maybe that’s small minded of me. My father had the idea that we owed something to our country. He’d been in the CCC then World War II. I figured it was what we were supposed to do too. Later, I also figured out that we should not have been in Southeast Asia. That’s what made it all so hard to handle.

I do go one. <shrug> When I get back to G’ville I intend to donate some portion of my left over money to one of the many Veteran related organizations. It may be $10 or $100. Depends upon how much Gatorade I drink, I guess. .

It’s hard not to feel even more drawn to the Vietnam issue since Camp Lejeune is right over there across the road.

Sorry for the lack of humor and information. It is one of those days.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Day 11, Sunset Beach to Wilmington, NC – 68.89 miles, average speed 12.4 mph. Total miles, 763

A pleasant night was followed by a pleasant beginning to the day because I was able to stop at the friendly neighborhood bagel shop and have (ta da) a coarse salt bagel! It was everything a bagel should be; chewy, warm (toasted) and slathered with cream cheese.

The ride was similarly pleasant most of the time as much of it was along or near the coast. I passed through Southport, Fort Fisher, Kure Beach and Carolina Beach before turning inland along Cape Fear River toward the port city, Wilmington. Southport and nearby Oak Island (which I did not see) have that trendy mentality which features the iea that “the initials say it all.” Both SPT and OKI stickers, labels and signs abound in the area. To its superficial credit, SPT (Southport) appears to be a delightful, prosperous village lacking many of the trappings typical of beachside communities; trinket stands and soon to be closed restaurants (which will soon reopen under new management). Not being directly on the ocean probably contributes to the community’s prosperity.

For me the draw to Southport was the ferry, part of North Carolina’s infrastructure. The 35 minute ride across Cape Fear River was a nice interlude. I was joined by a group of 8 motorcycles. I don't want to lose my ass and I definitely do not want to replace it with blue jean overhang, wither


After disembarking I rode through Fort Fisher which has the appearance of one of those vacation gems yet to be discovered by the general population. Kure Beach was more vacation developed, but lacked the tarnished sheen of Panama City Beach, for instance. But maybe PCB would look different at 12 miles an hour, too.

The next three days are very uncertain because of weather, distance, time and accommodations. Making Jacksonville, NC, would be good, but I’d be pushing 90 miles. Still, this would put me closer to an early arrival for the ferry to begin the Outer Banks. Additionally, weekend accommodations are less available. Weather? Scattered and isolated thunderstorms. At least the roads seem safer.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Day 10, Conway, SC to Sunset Beach, NC – 43.67 miles, average speed 11.7 mph. Total miles, 694

Leaving Conway was a chore. I got on the road in the midst of morning rush hour (7:40) and had to backtrack approximately 2 miles. This included climbing a very narrow bridge with an extremely steep grade. Yesterday made it clear that I would be Conway's least favorite visitor if I chose to assert my right to the road. I opted to walk along the narrow pedestrian walkway. Even if no one recognized my incredible sacrifice I felt better. OK . . . I felt like I had preserved my health. Surely someone would have fund reason to squeeze by to my long-lasting dismay.

Traffic grew lighter quickly. Conway isn't Atlanta after all. As the Weather Channel suggested, winds were light and variable. No headwinds to moan about. The roads were adequate, though still lacking anything resembling a useable edge of the road.
This is one of the better edges-of-the-road that I encountered in SC. I anticipated finding North Carolina's roads to be more hospitable. Below is where I entered the Tarheel State.
Note that just beyond the sign saying North Carolina there is a significantly wider road edge. Can SC save that much money by making their roads narrower?

For no reason other than thinking of doing it at the moment, I also took a picture of my odometer as I was about to enter NC. I was only a few miles from Calabash and my stop for the day outside of Sunset  Beach. Stopping at this campground (Brunswick Beaches Camping Resort) was prompted by bad reviews for the places I had considered and that were further along the route. This campground, a former KOA had no bad reviews. While reviews are often suspect, when they are all negative there's no good reason to verify for myself.
The grassy site is shaded and the whole place is low-key and pleasant. Did laundry. Showered. Got WiFi. Bagel shop down the road for when I depart in the morning. Weather is OK for this evening and tomorrow, but chances of thunderstorms increases by Saturday all along the coast.

I have fallen about 50 miles behind my best time, but remain within the lesser mileage itinerary. The problem I have to contend with now is that some of the places I thought of using are not satisfactory stopping point, either economically or hygienically.

The next stop? Wilmington? But where after that? Just part of the adventure. Wake up with the chance to make the most out of a new day. Funny how much easier it is to say that when I am not anticipating another day of South Carolina highways!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day 9, Andrews, SC to Conway, SC – 54 miles, average speed 12.4 mph. Total miles, 651

The Weather Channel convinced me to consider shortening my day to avoid severe afternoon storms. Wind directions were very similar to those experienced last week when every breeze seemed to be a head wind. These winds, related to the location of potential storm cells, shift with cell development and were very much in evidence along with growing and billowing cumulus clouds. What the Hell. It’s only money. And better to be poor than be hit by a car in blinding rain.

Yeah, being hit continued to have a high probability as I traversed more of the Palmetto State. As an aside . . . the South Carolina flag is reputed to be the second most popular flag after Texas. Love the flag. Hate the roads.

This whole road thing is depressing. I complained about the lack of visual stimulation in Georgia, but at least there was adequate paving to permit me to be right of the white line most of the time. In SC a paved berm is practically nonexistent. The result is that anything visually pleasing or interesting is missed or has to be ignored lest your attention wanders for a moment and you are deposited in the grass along with beer bottles and mostly empty Styrofoam takeout containers.

It does not matter whether the road is primary, secondary or tertiary. It doesn’t matter whether it is a US, SC or county route. It doesn’t matter which county, though some counties do have better road surfaces. Riding a bike puts me (and you, if you were here) in harms way. Everyone who cautioned me about good old boys in pickups need not to have wasted their words. In SC everyone has the potential to take a bicyclist out. My best hope is that cellular coverage is so spotty as to make text messaging while driving impractical.

The other scary thing is log haulers. Every road in SC must lead to or from a logging operation. The drivers are mostly respectful of me, slowing if someone is approaching and they never blast me with their airhorns or pass unnecessarily close. There are just so damn many and all are on a deadline to get to the mill or too the cutting site. More loads means more money. A bicycle is a brief impediment, but an impediment nonetheless.

Today’s ride featured fewer rough roads, so the physical demand I experienced yesterday was greatly reduced. Tension and attention was just as heightened, if not more so.

I reached Conway and the Red Hill Motel by 1:30. The rate fit my budget. WiFi is adequate. No washer and dryer. Pizza delivered. Cable TV. A/C works. I’m not within about 80 miles of North Carolina. I am hoping that the Tarheel will be better suited to travel and its campgrounds more readily available.

One more thing about SC. Damn nice people.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day 8, Moncks Corner to Andrews, SC – 39.7 miles, average speed 12 mph. Total miles, 597

Yesterday’s ride was the most difficult, even more so than the first day’s struggle to reach St. Augustine. By now, with a week’s worth of pedaling, my legs, heart and lungs are handling the ride well. Virtually every other bodily mechanism is protesting, but the physical demands of terrible roads left me battered. Long before reaching Moncks Corner I knew I could not settle for a tent stay. The Colonial Inn was adequate and under $50. Balancing physical and financial aspects is consuming much of my idle mind time while riding. I have convinced myself that eventually I will find a campground at the right time and in the right place. Perhaps I am justifying.

I left at 8 knowing that across the street was Burger King and sausage, egg and cheese croissants. Twenty minutes later I was well fueled and committed to my version of a rest day. $39 would buy me a night in the Colonial Inn in Andrews, SC!

After escaping the multi-lane, intown, rush hour traffic of Moncks Corner the ride was on truly pleasant secondary roads.

Much of the first half of the trip traversed Frances Marion National Forest. Riders are common enough that two gentlemen stopped to ask where I was headed and to relate brief stories about other riders they had met. They accounted for 25% of the traffic I encountered while covering approximately 20 miles. This section of the route was pleasant and passed quickly. Much of time I was shielded from the sun by thick forest, adding to the positive nature of the ride.

Knowing that I would be finished riding in about 4 hours was uplifting. My tota pedaling time was less than 3.5 hours. I was able to unload my bike, ride unfettered to a nearby Laundromat and wash things then later have a sit-down meal of lasagna at Antonio’s in downtown Andrews. As with all food consumed on this trip, the food was wonderful. Understand this . . . EVERYTHING tastes good.

I am now faced with the possibility of severe weather tomorrow. My primary goal is a campground near Calabash, NC, a distance of about 88 miles. I have also looked at a less than $50 motel (Red Hill) in Conway, SC. Weather is predicted to be less severe on Thursday, so Conway make be a salvation.

Perhaps I should have decided to cycle for a cause and sought donations. I could have donated 80% to the cause and used 20% for expenses. But what cause other than “because I want to do it”? The AC maps clearly identify more campgrounds as I travel further north and there is the hostel at the north end of OBX. How about southbound? Campgrounds have been relatively easy to find using Google maps, so I have less concern, at least as far as Greensboro. Traversing more South Carolina roads is a bit daunting.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Day 7, Yemassee, SC to Moncks Corner, SC – 75.1 miles, average speed 12.1 mph. Total miles, 557.2

I struggle to come up with anything positive to say about today’s ride not because there wasn’t anything positive, but because there was one overwhelming negative; terrible roads. I may be partly to blame because I chose to divert fro the Adventure Cycling route I the hope of reducing mileage significantly. Their route would have had me on secondary and tertiary roads typical of those I traveled yesterday, so I opted to follow US 17 Alternate to Moncks Corner.

I can’t adequately explain how terrible most of the 70+ miles were. Narrow roads with no shoulders. Shoulders that were incredibly rough. Miles of grooved roadway waiting to be paved. Heat. Heavy traffic. Basically the worst possible conditions short of a blinding rain storm.

And the positives? Summerville was attractive.. A carload of young people stopped at a light next to me wanted to know how fast, how far and why. Hardees biscuits for breakfast.

This whole journey is a challenge and challenges aren’t supposed to be easy, are they?

Day Six, Statesboro, GA to Yemassee, SC – 78.84 miles, average speed 12.1 mph. Total miles, 482

Statesboro was a nice place and the Mexican restaurant where I ate, El Sombrero, was outstanding. Mole Ranchero! $8.50! Salsa obviously prepared on-site. Nice way to end a long day.

As appealing as Statesboro was it contrasted greatly to the endless piney woods and verdant fields. I did cross the Ogeechee and Savannah Rivers. Southern rivers have an aura about them; dark, slow moving, tree draped banks, perfect places to idle away time fishing. Another contrast, too. Southern rivers versus Interstate 95.


Entering South Carolina brought one very significant change. Roads. Many of the rural roads in both Florida and Georgia were rough, but rough was the apparent standard as soon as I crossed the Savannah River. Paved edges, defined by white lines, when they exist are often very narrow.

There was no rain and very little to talk about. I am still on pace, still sore, still tired at the end of each day. I am also thrilled by being able to do this thing. I ebb from wondering why I am doing it then flow with the joy of doing it.

Can I make it all the way?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Day Five; Odum to Statesboro, GA - 75.53 miles, average speed 11.7 mph

It was a restless night in the Odum Recreation Area. The restlessness was increased when I awoke and discovered a screw had fallen out of the bottom mount of my rear rack. Paul at Bikes and More had recommended I carry one of every kind of screw, but the one I did not have was a 40cm one. A couple to twist ties worked to hold the rack in place and that seemed an adequate solution. I anticipated that I could try a NAPA or similar major auto parts store for a replacement.

As I was assembling my gear two guys arrived with their smokers for the "to do" I had heard about the previous evening. I soon learned that it was a family reunion and the number of pieces of chicken and ribs, along with some pig's feet being prepared for someone special suggested that this was a significant to do.

I was late leaving because of the screw issue and did not get on the way until almost 830. After not too many miles I realized I was miserable because I was dirty, smelly and worn out. Less than 20 miles into the day I decided I would aim for Reidsville as a stopping point ans take refuge in a motel again.

Like yesterday the ride was abundantly boring. Cotton fields and cattle.Small settlements. No hardware or auto parts stores. There was rain and threats of rain and an hour of light drizzle. Then . . . the "city" or Reidsville lacked anything city-like. I was told there was a "small motel" that I probably missed and a B & B that I already knew cost close to $100 per night. Pausing to eat a Larabar and drink some water I decided to set off for Statesboro, another 30 or so miles.

And then it rained! Usually I just ride, but it rained so hard. One of those storms where you have to hold your breath for fear of drowning if you inhale. I found a church with a breezeway and hid!

Thank goodness for The Lighthouse!

The ride was not as difficult as I anticipated. The final miles were more uphill than I liked. As I reached Statesboro a guy caught up with me. When I stopped at a convenience store to ask directions he asked whether I was doing the East Coast Adventure Cycling route. We chatted and I learned where to go for a motel and food. After leading me to the right road he went his way and I crashed at a HoJo.

Tomorrow? 80 ore miles? Probably

Day Four; Folkston to Odum Georgia - 87.37 miles, average speed 12.1 mph

Left Folkston (Relax Inn, formerly Days Inn) at 7:35. Had slept well and long. Felt mildly ill, but this passed after eating leftover pizza and drinking nearly frozen Pepsi. The mini-refrigerator was extremely efficient.

Had to ask directions from sheriff’s deputy directing school traffic but was soon on track. The prescribed route uses all rural roads and some are extremely rural to the point that if I fell over it might be hours or days, even, before anyone passed by to notice me. Fortunately, most of the pavement was well maintained, so making time was easy until the weather changed. Thunderstorms in the area sent headwinds and crosswinds solely to frustrate me.

Twenty miles northeast of Folkston I stopped at a store that was at least one step back in time. The intersection of County Road 252 and Old 259 had no name. Whether the name on a sign hanging from the building was the name of the business was questionable. Ponderosa did not fit and I did not ask. The lady behind the counter regaled me with questions I could answer and answers to questions I did not ask. On Thursday nights the Ponderosa also serves ribs and I bet they’re damn good.

As I ate my iced honey bun and drank my YooHoo I wondered about the clientele of this place in the middle of somewhere Georgia. 

The most interesting thing I saw in these many woodland miles was recently killed wild hog. It was large enough to make me wonder what hit it and did not end up in the ditch. It was a big, fierce looking animal. Dead on the road is about the only way I ever want to see another wild hog

Atkinson, Hortense and Patterson were not significantly more impressive the area around the Ponderosa and the weather was worse. Light, sometimes drizzling rain dampened my clothes but not my spirit. I did decide I had enough of woods by the time I reached the agricultural area between Patterson and Odum. Soon got tired of fields of cotton, too.

I covered more than 80 miles again and did so without great difficulty. Tired, yes. Worn out, no. I become saddle sore about 50 miles into the ride, in part because of bad timing for one of those irritating sore spots that appeared before I departed. I think zinc oxide will ultimately dry it and reduce that part of the saddle soreness. The Brooks B-17 works as it is supposed to. So does the bike and the tires. And the bags. The pilot remains the weakest part.

So, here I am in Odum , Georgia, without a place to stay. Three people suggested the Recreation Area. A lady inside the hall associated with the area said she saw me as she drove into town and had she known then I could have pitched my tent in her yard. Wonder if she would have fed me, too?! She offered that if I stayed around tomorrow I could join the group for whom she had rented the hall and she’d have good food then.

One of the frequent things people say about touring is that you meet interesting and helpful people. That is certainly true so far. From the Italian families to the working class hero at the local store who called a friend to try to locate another campground to the lady in the rec hall, everyone has been at least interesting.

Tomorrow? It’s less than 80 miles to Statesboro. Why not?

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Day Three; Ft. Clinch State Park to Folkston, GA - 88 miles

The biggest problems? Me not knowing how to prepare my gear for camping. I can figure it out. Next? Wet tent and the wet black sand. Argh! Took much longer than I wanted to get going and when I did it began raining(0740). I debated stopping to put on my rain cape, bit decided that I was going to be wet from the inside or the outside so how much did it matter. An hour later when I stopped in Yulee to eat I was no wetter than when I stopped in Palatka.

There was this Kodak moment on the way from Ft. Clinch to Yulee on A1A crossing one of the bayous.

 Whether this swing bridge still functions I do not know, but the tracks looked to be in repair. Nonetheless, it was a neat thing to see.

Mostly, the ride was uninteresting. Miles of featureless roads and a 12 mile mistake when I went 6 miles past a turn. Had already decided that I would do a motel in Folkston rather than a campground, so the additional 12 miles were tacked onto my efforts to get there.

When I made the mistake I am sure I was bitching to myself about endless headwinds. The headwind became a tailwind when I recovered so it helped to mellow my mood.

As I have observed before, I cannot carry too much water. As the end of a day approaches water is one of the things keeping me going. The Camelbak bottle I got at Bikes and More (bearing their logo for only $9.99) is worth every cent. Its insulating qualities are remarkable for something so light.

Another observation or revelation; I have never done anything so difficult, yet, much of the time I am smiling. I am sunburned, but not painfully, thanks to Neutrogena Sunscreen. I am able to remain hydrated thanks to Kangaroo in Florida and whatever comes along in Georgia.

I think I am going to do this thing!

Day Two; St. Augustine to Ft, Clinch State Park - ,66 miles

Left the Pirate Haus early (0635) hoping to avoid some of the heat. Neither arriving at nor departing The Haus was easy because of the steed stairs leading up to the accommodations. For the price, the Haus is ideal. For a loaded touring bike it is less than ideal. The ambiance was appealing and fortunately the two kids who were there with mom were delightfully mannered.

Anticipated getting breakfast somewhere along A1A, but discovered that there is nothing but miles of vacation and luxury housing. The Adventure Cycling route does show off Ponte Vedra in its best light if you want to see million dollar homes, Porsches and families with multiple Mercedes. They are courteous to bikers, too.

Made good time, but it still got damn hot. Drank all my water before reaching a McDonald’s in Jacksonville Beach. Refilled bottles with store brand water at a Kangaroo and drank a bottle of Gatorade. Guess I believe the commercials.

The route (A1A) crosses the St. Johns River at Mayport. It was a brief and pleasant trip made more interesting my two Italian families who visit Florida annually and tour widely. I seemed to be as fascinating to them.

Arrived at Ft. Clinch State Park ad was able to get a camp site among the RVs for less than $17 because I am an aged resident. I cannot say anything about people who spend money on mega-RVs so they can sit next to them and shoo mosquitoes considering my obsession with cycling. Less money. Just as weird.

Made my first meal using the MSR burner. The Navy Bean soup tasted wonderful despite being slightly undercooked and burning of some of to the bottom of the titanium pot. Shower room was spiffy clean.. Kids were moderately bothersome but quiet long before I went to sleep. The real downside was being in and RV area. The area was not the best for a tent and I would have done better in the tent area. Heavy rain after the tent was up made the ground very ugly and the black sand stuck to everything. I did manage to wash cycling shorts. Slept fitfully and awoke very stiff.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Day One; G'ville to St. Augustine - 86.9 miles, average speed 12.6 mph

Left later than intended (745), but within my planned window. Stopped at work, which was on the way out of town and said goodbyes. I've dealt with all the internal issues related to leaving my job to someone else. I prepared as much as possible and have to trust that things will work out. The nature of this Adventure is such that I cannot dwell on what might happen anywhere except on the road.

Before leaving G'ville, I stopped at Winn-Dixie and bought the sunscreen I had forgotten yesterday. Later, I'd be glad of the decision. I also picked up a handful of Larabars because I had packed my supply deeper than I wished to dig. Added a tin on wintergreen Altoids for their diversionary quality.

From G'ville to Palatka was typical Florida except for a few tedious hills. The final several miles really sucked, though; hot, featureless, straight and a headwind. It's been my observation about headwinds in Florida. No matter which way one rides, eventually there'll be a headwind. Pallatka turned out to be 50 miles distant and while that had been my maximum distance previously, I did not intend to stop before reaching St. Augustine, another 35 miles.

I ate two Larabars, drank a lot of water, even stopped at a convenience store for more water and some Gatorade, but over the final miles before reaching Palatka I could only think about double cheese burgers Well, I never intended to make this a fine food adventure. I bought two. Loved 'em. And had refills of Coke and suffered not a moment of remorse. I did have an extended moment of anxiety when two men in my age range left and headed to their cars. They wore jeans. Neither had an ass. Will this happen to me? Is there a treatment or is it terminal?

Soon after leaving McDonalds I encountered one of Florida's "mountains."
This one climbs over the St. Johns River. 5 mph up. 30 mph down.

I opted to diverge from Adventure Cycling's route which would have me zigging and zagging my way to The Ancient City. Having driven 207 I knew it has an adequate paved shoulder. Using it would reduce the distance by 5 to 7 miles. It was a tough 35 miles. Headwind. Heat. Tired. And a diversion.

The bike path to nowhere.
 About 10 miles from St. Augustine a bike path appeared along the 207 right-of-way. I doffed my helmet and took it. When it crossed to the other side of 207 an continued to follow the right-of-way I stayed on it. When I reached a point where it seemed to vanish at the horizon was concerned. A single road crossed it after 3 miles. When I met an oncoming walker and asked about getting to my destination he told me the trail was a dead a few miles ahead. I needed to backtrack only a few hundred years and eventually reached the Pirate Haus.

I admit to being damn tired, but managed too get bike and gear to the top of the stairs of The Pirate Haus. After sitting numbly for awhile I showered, got some expensive pizza and a lot of Pepsi and am now ready to call it a night. Tomorrow will be a significantly shorter ride likely in the 55 mile range. It will also be the first tent night. Today convinced me I can do this thing.