Day 5: Yellow Watermelon, Purple Potatoes, and Dogs

Saturday, June 13th, 2009

Fort White, FL (Ichetucknee) to Suwannee River State Park (44 mi / 71 km)

I wake up feeling like crap and slightly delirious, thinking that it must have been so hot and humid throughout the night that the water in our tent can just be explained by condensation and exhalation. I get out of the tent, only to stand up and discover that I am very dizzy and have to take one step at a time so I don’t fall over. Not boding well for getting on a bicycle packed with 40 lbs of gear (that’s just a guess, I’m not exactly sure how much our bikes weigh now).

After slowly packing up camp and eating a small breakfast of crumbled up pop-tart and dry cereal, I’m feeling “good” enough to get on the bike and get moving. Surprisingly, the movement helps and I start feeling better. It makes me think it might just be the stagnant, hot, humid, air we breathe in and out all night that kills us. I’m hoping to pick up a solar or battery powered fan at some point to make the hot nights bearable.

Six or maybe twelve miles out on the country roads heading towards Wellborn, we stop to take a break and see a man setting up a produce stand on the corner. We haven’t really had breakfast, so I head across the road to see what he’s got. Unfortunately he’s out of all of his fruit except big honking watermelons, which would be problematic to carry and couldn’t be eaten in one session.

I ask if he has any cut up, and as a matter of fact he does – a half a yellow watermelon (have you ever had or seen a yellow watermelon?) – and a dollar fifty later, I’m the bearer of second breakfast back across the street. We just pull out our spoon and take turns digging in. Delicious!

Not so delicious are the dogs that start cropping up along these country roads. Now I’m sure you know that dogs have a certain affinity for postmen and women, but you might not know that they share that same affinity for bicyclists. All of the reading that you can do about how to fend off a dog during a bike tour – use pepper spray, keep some rocks and/or a slingshot handy, slow down, speed up, get off your bike and use it as a shield, kick – doesn’t really prepare you for that first dog that comes out of nowhere snapping at your heels. Oh yeah – and when that does happen, don’t show any fear, because dogs can sense it. Right.

That first dog we pedal away from as fast as possible; barely fast enough. The second one we see coming… rather, waiting… and we slow down and prepare to get off the bikes. He runs up when we are in range, but stops dead in his tracks when we stop and give him the evil eye. The third one we also see coming, and we stop and pick up some rocks, but luckily don’t have to use them, as he passes us on the other side of the street without engaging.

There ain’t much in Wellborn, Florida. We stop for a break, food, coffee, and water at the B&B Food Store. You know you’re in the country when the typical gas station food – hot dogs, brats, perhaps pizza – is augmented by a Crock Pot of homemade pulled pork! I go for the pulled pork, and we relax there for awhile.

Twelve more miles to Live Oak, FL, and we hit up a Cuban restaurant for a second lunch. We ask our waitress for suggestions of where to hang out for a few hours outside in the shade – a park, perhaps? – and she suggests a big field outside of the high school football stadium. Lots of ants populating the field, but we manage to find an area to pitch our tent and spread out our stuff to dry it out, and another area in the shade to lay down and rest for awhile.

A nice neighborhood guy on a bike comes over and chats for a bit. He apparently is used to the heat, because he disagrees with my diagnosis that it is hot outside, but he offers his apartment for a shower if we need one, “apartment 121B behind the old Winn Dixie.” Eventually the rain comes, and we pack up and leave.

We hang out in a nice small restaurant with the best sweet tea and the best hamburgers in town, waiting out the weather, which is looking pretty nasty. Eventually it does pour for a few minutes, then lets up pretty quickly. We charge the iPhone and watch the radar, and when we feel it’s safe, head on down the road.

There’s a moment in time – there may be more than one – when you feel the fear and nervousness. It could be set off by the weather, by someone’s comment about how you can’t trust people, by an interaction or conversation or situation that you find yourself in.

For me, it is the weather… and the waitress’ comment… and the two times I have been cussed out today from a random passing pickup truck… and a bad feeling about my back wheel, which is starting to get “out of true” (not straight as it spins).

So I am feeling the fear, and we pull off to a gas station for a bathroom break and because it’s raining and I don’t want to get caught in a downpour. The rain lessens a bit in a few minutes, and we head out again, though I’m still feeling quite nervous about my back wheel, all the way to the campsite.

The rain cools everything off and makes it pretty easy to get the rest of the 12 miles through Falmouth to Suwannee River State Park, which is a very nice campground. The entrance is absolutely magical, as all of the Spanish Bayonet, which are sprinkled throughout a sparse pine forest, have shot up their white flowers 5 or 6 feet above the ground, and everything has that slightly misty post-rain feel.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the entrance, but this is what the flowers of the Spanish Bayonet look like, though the ones we saw were taller.

When we register and get to our campsite, I finally take a closer look at my back wheel and notice that one… no, two spokes are broken. Well the nearest bike shop is in Tallahassee (about 75 miles away), so I make a few phone calls to try and determine how likely it is that we’ll be able to bike to Monticello, where we were hoping to get a ride to Adam and Casey’s place in Tallahassee for a rest and re-equip day.

As we’re trying to figure out what to do, another camper walks by with his two bull mastiffs – large to us, but smaller than normal, he says, as they weren’t well treated before they were rescued. He strikes up a conversation, asking us about our trip and expressing his awe at the amount of gear we’re able to carry in on two bikes. After finding out about the broken spokes and quizzing us a bit about what we’re going to do (go as far as we can on the bad wheel is the current plan), Brian says, “Well, I’m going to Tallahassee tomorrow, and you are more than welcome to join me and the ladies [his dogs] in the camper.”

Wow! I have a good feeling about Brian – he reminds me of my uncle Alan. He invites us over to take a look at the camper – it’s a Catalina (which also happens to be the name of the cute little toddler we get to see in Tallahassee). As we’re figuring out what will go where and learning a bit more about him, he asks us if we’ve eaten dinner.

We admit that we haven’t, and that dinner is either going to be peanut butter and banana sandwiches or a freeze dried backpacker meal. Brian immediately starts rummaging around his camper, pulling out a piece of cooked steak, a bunch of new potatoes (including some purple ones), and corn, piling it all onto a paper plate. He also offers – and we gladly accept – two beers.

After making sure we’ve got the means to cook the food, Brian bids us goodnight, and we return to camp to cook up a delightful dinner which we are able to savor, knowing that we don’t have to wake up at the crack of dawn, as we’ve got a cushy ride to Tallahassee waiting for us in the morning!

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