My flight was scheduled to get into Jacksonville at 5 p.m. on November 9. I had hoped to put my bike together and ride it out of the airport, but November days are short and I wouldn’t have made it out of the airport before dark.
I took the easy and more expensive way out by taking a shuttle to St. Augustine, where I would stay for a day and start my ride after that. I wanted to go to St. Augustine because it’s the oldest European settlement in North America and it’s on the coast. Jacksonville is 15 miles inland. Also, St. Augustine is the start of the Adventure Cycling Association’s Southern Tier Route.
The Adventure Cycling Association is an organization that promotes bicycle travel and publishes bicycling specific maps. Their Southern Tier Route goes from St. Augustine to San Diego. The routes meander across the country on back roads and bike lanes. According to Adventure Cycling, safety is their most important consideration when planning their routes. The maps have turn-by-turn directions, icons that show where stores, gas stations, bike shops, campgrounds and other amenities are. They also have emergency phone numbers on the back.
I planned to ride the Southern Tier route most of the way to Austin, but I would leave it at times to take my own route. It’s great to be on an established route and know where everything is, but it’s also much harder to get lost.
St. Augustine has a couple hostels, but I decided to try out warmshowers.org, a bike-touring equivalent of couchsurfing.org. It sounded interesting, and I wanted test it out right away. I also didn’t want to pay $50 for two nights in a hostel right after paying $125 to check a bag, and put my bike on a plane. The shuttle was also $65. I few days before I got to Florida I lined up a stay with a Warmshowers.org member named Hugh.
I hate flying. Things often go wrong when I get to airports and I was especially nervous about my makeshift bag and my bike box. I got up at 4 a.m. To get to the airport in plenty of time for my flight. I didn’t sleep much the night before. I hadn’t been nervous about the trip but on that night I couldn’t stop thinking about how big Texas is and how I’d be all alone on a bicycle. That morning as I waited for my flight to board, the TV at the gate showed a tornado touching down somewhere in Texas. I made both flights even though the layover in Chicago was a little tight. Between flights at the airport, I tried to call a friend. She answered but she didn’t seem to be able to hear me. I was not getting great service so I didn’t think anything more of it.
The airport in Jacksonville is small. When I got to the baggage terminal I immediately saw my cardboard box. I grabbed it and gave it a quick inspection. It looked fine. Ten seconds later the carousel stopped. I looked around and didn’t see my red sack anywhere. The carousel didn’t start again.
I was panicking. If my bag didn’t show up for a few days it could throw my whole trip off. I wanted to see a lot between the Atlantic and Texas and my time already short. I went to the desk and filled out a card about my missing bag. This was hard because the lost baggage card had 20 or so different shapes and styles of luggage, but lumpy red sack wasn’t one of them. I explained this to the guy at the desk and he looked confused for a while and then pretended to understand.
I got on the shuttle to St. Augustine with nothing but my bike in a cardboard box, my helmet and a book that I carried on. The gospel singer who drove the shuttle was reassuring. He told me that not many bags get permanently lost because the airline has to pay to replace everything when that happens.
I met Hugh and we went out to dinner down the street from his house. Hugh was really nice, but I was pretty preoccupied with my missing bag. On top of that, I had tried to use my phone on the shuttle ride and it once again didn’t work. The microphone broke and it was only useful for text messages.
I ate a delicious burrito and Hugh told me about his bike ride from St Augustine to New Mexico. It sounded like a great trip. He hadn’t done much bicycling before hand, he just went for it. He gave me some tips on where to sleep in a pinch and I started to get excited again. He called his trip the best thing he has ever done.
By the time I went to sleep on an air mattress back at Hugh’s house I had been awake for almost 24 hours after sleeping for two hours. I didn’t have extra clothes, a toothbrush, my prescription drugs or a case for my lenses. My phone was toast and if the baggage desk at the airport called me, I wouldn’t be able to talk to them. Despite all that, I slept like a rock.