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!

Not broken

So far so good. Amy’s arm isn’t broken according to the doctor, though the x-ray is going to the radiologist to make sure. We’ll be in Tally at least another couple of days. 🙂

Great expectations

We had great expectations for setting out from Tallahassee today. But here we are, at a McDonald’s in Quincy, FL, waiting for a friend pickup. Amy lost her balance trying to look back at me and see what was wrong (my front dérailleur had temporarily stopped cooperating) and fell over pretty hard on to her arm. She’s fine, but we’re headed back to Tally to get an x-ray. We’ll let you know what we find out about her arm 🙁

Day 4: Horses, Horses, Horses

Friday, June 12th, 2009

Gainesville, FL to High Springs, FL (~30 mi / 48 km)

Note: it’s about 45 mi / 72 km from Gainesville, FL, to Ichetucknee, where we ended up at the end of the day.

That recovery ride was probably better than doing nothing on our rest day, but it was still tough! Joel and Jeff are serious cyclists and though I’m sure they were going at a leisurely pace, it felt more like a normal to fast pace for us.

I will say that it was refreshing to ride without gear on the back during that 1 hr ride. It makes a huge difference, and was an added incentive for us to leave as much as possible behind in Gainesville. We probably dropped 1/3 of our load there at my brother’s house.

So we are sore as we head out of Gainesville, now on the Adventure Cycling routes that we brought with us, which, we soon find out, lead us along some seriously back country roads. No dirt roads or anything like that, just beautiful, often shaded, two lane county roads (e.g. CR 137). Low traffic, sometimes a shoulder, sometimes not. All of the drivers that do pass us are courteous and give us space as they pass, if they can.

We stop outside a church for a break and to check how far we are from High Springs – at this point we’re looking for some significant food, not just the snacks that we have with us… a truck pulls over onto the grass, and a retired couple starts asking us about our trip… “We’ve always seen folks that look kinda like you, and wondered where they were goin’ and what they were doin'”.

So we chat about our trip for a bit, and Bill and Claudia offer us some tips, giving us a better (more direct) route to take to Ichetucknee, as well as some restaurant suggestions. They also give us their phone numbers to call them if we needed anything throughout the day!

We go the rest of the way into High Springs and find one of the suggested restaurants, Alice’s Parkside, which is full of locals who give us a bit of a quizzical look as we walk in with our backpacks and cycling clothes on. The folks who are sitting near us are friendly and strike up conversation, asking us about our trip, and we ask them about the parks and springs around town.

“Oh, you hafta go see Ginnie Springs! Evrybody goes to Ichetucknee, but I heard Ginnie Springs is so much more be-a-utiful! Y’all need to git urselves a truck! I cain’t believe ur ridin’ them bi-cycles in this heat!”

This is Glenda, and she comes running out after us as we are leaving with a grand idea. I was amazed by her accent and am attempting to capture just a tiny piece of it here.

“Hey y’all, I got that big black truck over thar, we could toss ur bikes up thar and take you wherever you wanna go, we ain’t doin’ nothin’, just give us a bit to finish our lunch. Y’all cain’t ride them bikes in this heat!”

On the porch of Alice's Parkside, waiting for Glenda and her grandson to finish lunch

We take her up on her offer, and her 16-year-old grandson Jeremiah hops up in the back of the truck, moves around the feed bucket and cage they had used to catch and deliver wild hogs earlier in the day, and gets our bikes up into the truck. 

Hitchin' a ride in Glenda's truck

We head out of town in Glenda’s truck – quickly (“Y’all might wanna hold on! Hee-hee!”) – and visit a couple of the springs that Glenda wanted to show us (Poe Springs, Blue Springs, and Ginnie Springs). They were certainly beautiful – the folks at Blue Springs let us get out without paying to look at the “bowl” (the head of the springs where the water comes out and there are underwater caves, etc) – but they were also expensive to visit and/or camp at. For instance, it would have cost us about $45 to camp at Ginnie Springs. Too much for our budget.

So we ask Glenda to take us back into town so we could just stick with Plan A and bike out to Ichetucknee, but being the kind lady she is, she insists that we let her take us directly to the campsite. All the while she’s chattin’ it up, telling us about herself and her family, asking about ours, encouraging us to get a truck – as we drive on some of these back roads it makes sense why – and all of a sudden we see a bunch of slowing and stopped cars ahead of us on the highway, and then we see why – there are 6 or so horses on the side of the road, starting to walk into the road.

Jeremiah rounds up the horses

Glenda immediately pulls off the road in a position to block the horses from coming our way, and tells her grandson Jeremiah to “git outa the truck and go round up them horses!” He very successfully gets them off of the road and headed down the dirt path from whence they came, and the next hour or so was spent with us following the horses, trying to get them back in their pen, complicated by the fact that there were plenty of woods for them to hide in. It is a wonderful serendipitous country adventure as we try to help out the neighbors who knew whose horses they were but didn’t know how to contact the owner, who wasn’t home. I must say Amy and I aren’t doing much besides hanging out with Glenda and neighbor Brenda as Jeremiah and the Brenda’s nephew tool around on foot and via a knobby-tired golf cart to get the horses back in the pen and fix the part of the fence where they were able to get out.

Eventually the adventure is over, and they take us to a nice, cheap campsite outside of Ichetucknee. We loved spending the afternoon with Glenda and Jeremiah and were blessed to see how she could strike up a conversation with just about anyone and make them feel loved, make them feel like a human being.

We try to rest in the shade in the campsite’s grassy area, but there are ants everywhere. Amy wakes up feeling very sick and dehydrated, we set up camp and use our stove for the first time to cook a freeze-dried backpacker meal of chili.

It’s hard to fall asleep (it’s hot and humid, and loud – I even wake up in the morning to, “Does anyone have anymore beers?”). I must have squeezed water out of my camelbak during the night, because there is some water in the tent again in the morning. Don’t worry about your tent, Dan, we’re taking good care of it… we dry it out every time it ends up wet in the morning :).

2 Truths and 2 Lies

Instead of 2 truths and a lie, we bring you our first installment of… 2 truths and 2 lies!

The first person to respond with the correct answers will receive a postcard from the road. So respond in a comment on this post with your answers, and your address.

  1. Amy has showered every day since we left last Tuesday
  2. Amy has showered 2 times since we left last Tuesday
  3. Amy has brushed her teeth 2 times a day since we left last Tuesday
  4. Amy has brushed her teeth 2 times since we left last Tuesday

Good luck!