Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Slice of Cycling Heaven

Zephryhills, Florida to Springfield, Georgia (Miles 401-758)

Rick at Allen Road Bike shop in Zephryhills sells me a set of wheels, chain, spare master link, and side-view mirror. I spend a few hours behind his shop, installing the new gear, pedal away relieved to have a sound bike for the next leg of my journey.

It's hot, the kind of muggy-sticky-miserable heat that Florida is known for, and salty sweat stings my eyes. Where is the air-conditioning when you need it? I take Highway 301 north, pedal the shoulder with cars and trucks roaring past my left ear, and my stress level rockets upward. Withlacoochee Bike Trail beckons a few miles outside Dade City and I wheel into the parking lot, stop and glance at an old man who sits on the floor of his van. He's got a mop of Einstein hair, grayish skin, and doesn't appear cognizant that I am a few feet in front of him. He slumps forward and holds his head in his hands. Thinking I'm looking at someone about to have a heat stroke, I unzip the compartment that contains my phone. 911 here I come.

"You okay?" I say.

His head jerks up, then his torso jerks up, then his chin jerks up. His blue eyes blaze.

"Of course, I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be okay?" He nods at his bike at the rear of the van. "Went for a little ride; I do that now and then. Is that okay with you?"

The sun is a red ball in a white sky, no wind, and sweat drips off my chin to the handlebars. "Day like today, got to drink plenty of water. Just sayin'."

"Phffffttt. You know what the trouble is with people today? It's those smartphones they have glued to their noses. My son-in-law can't go to the bathroom without his, afraid he'll miss something or another. Daughter's the same way. Never had one myself—don't believe in them."

"Yeah, those smartphones, the devil's own poison." I'd chop off a big toe to drink some of that hemlock tea. My TracFone is so short on technology it's one step away from a rotary dial.

He goes on a rant about politicians in Washington and before long I wish he'd really had a heat stroke. Kidding! I glance toward the bike trail, try to exit the conversation, leave with him railing about the possibility of a woman president. He gesticulates at no one in particular.

The bike path is stress-free pedaling, and two hours later I pull off the asphalt and camp in the Withlacoochee forest. The sun goes down, it's still hot, and I'm still sweating.
Withlacoochee State Forest

Home for the Night

Three days later—sweating, shirt clinging to my back—I ride into Folkston, Georgia and dismount at a pavilion. This small town is famous for train-watching, which is about as exciting as watching grass grow. For lunch I cook sausage and clam chowder, watch a train roll down the tracks. The boxcars are covered with prettily-painted graffiti, I'll give the train-watchers that, but all those protesting wheels—groaning and squeaking, squeaking and groaning—one after another after another after another after another after another—is a bit off putting. (Think seemingly endless supply of fingernails and chalkboards.)

I camp 35 miles north of Folkston, cook low-rent mac-n-cheese and bottom-dollar tuna, which tastes as yuck-city as it sounds, get up the next day and do it all over again.


A few miles south of Bellview, I get off my bike and shake hands with Jerry Smith. I met him through Warmshowers, and he and his wife Shirley are cycling trail-angels who take in the occasional cyclist for the night. Between them they've cycled hundreds of thousands of miles to raise awareness for kids in need. They invite me inside their beautiful home, where they feed me, then point out the shower and my room for the night. We swap cycling stories—Jerry is a cycling savant—and that evening attend a wildlife conservation meeting, which is a euphemism for meeting great people and eating great food. My trail-angels cycle out with me in the morning, after a delicious breakfast of eggs, grits, biscuits and gravy, and we ride together for a couple of hours. This is my first companion ride during Ride between the Stars, and I appreciate their company. We part at McDonald's in Pembroke, promise to keep in touch. That'll be an easy promise to keep; Jerry and Shirley are the kind of people I want in my life.

Still in love

I ride to Springfield and settle into a comfortable seat in the library. It's time to research my route through South Carolina and rest an aching knee for a while.


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