November 10, 2011
I woke up to sunshine in St. Augustine and my headache was gone. Three different voice mails on my broken phone said my bag had arrived at the baggage desk and they wanted to know where to bring it. I borrowed Hugh’s cell phone and dialed the number that had called me. Someone very sleepy answered. Apparently the guy on the night shift was calling from his cell phone all night and I had just woken him up. I apologized and he told me his team would be calling at 8 a.m. when the baggage desk opened. That meant that when they called Hugh would be gone and I would have to find a different phone to call them back.
When Hugh left for work I cut open my bike box and started putting it together. I was screwing the pedals in when I got a phone call from an unknown number. It was a Florida area code, so I knew it was the airport. They left a voicemail and I listened to it just to be sure. I sent a text message with the address, but I wasn’t sure if the number was a cell phone or if it could receive text messages. So I hit the street in search of a phone to borrow. Luckily, before I made it to the end of the block I got a text message from the airport baggage desk. They said they would be at Hugh’s house with my bag in an hour.
By this time I was really excited about my trip. To have 5 weeks to do whatever I want was incredible after working so much in October. Between putting racks and fenders on my bike I watched squirrels chasing each other through the ancient mossy oak and palm trees. They would jump from tree to tree without slowing down. At one point I saw five squirrels running after each other jump from one branch to the next 50 feet off the ground.
My bag arrived before I was done building my bike. The whole thing took care of itself quite tidily. All in all, it was almost easier to get the bag delivered. It saved me from carrying it between the baggage carousel and the shuttle. The biggest hardship of the whole situation was sleeping with my contact lenses in.
I spent the day running errands and exploring on my bike. I got a new phone at the Verizon store. They couldn’t believe I didn’t want a smart phone. They were even more shocked that I came to Florida to ride a bicycle to Austin.
After the Verizon store I rode to the beach. It was 75 degrees and sunny but the beach was pretty empty. There were a few die-hard sun-tanners and some surfers in wet suits. I stripped down and waded out to bob in the waves for a while. All the flying and mishaps were washed away and I finally felt like I was on vacation.
I bought a lock at a bike shop on the way back from the beach. The owner of the store told me there was a Dutch guy in the store the day before and he was on his way to the West Coast on a bicycle.
Downtown St. Augustine is right across the street from Castille San Marcos, the oldest fort on the continent. After seeing the fort I walked around downtown. Eleven blocks of St. Augustine are pedestrian only. Old and colorful buildings are separated by narrow streets packed with tourists. The storefronts are a mix of restaurants and tourist shops. I couldn’t find any grocery stores, but there were several hot sauce stores. I bought some datil pepper hot sauce. The girl who helped me at the Verizon store told me that the Datil pepper only grows in St Augustine and a certain region of Spain. She was growing a couple hundred of them on her property. I asked her if she grows anything else. She said “no, but I’m trying to get my medical marijuana card.”
A balloon-animalist flagged me down as I pushed the blue bicycle through the pedestrian-only area of town. The balloon sculptress goes by the name of the Balloon Biker and she had just finished a trip from Chicago to Florida. She stopped along the way and made balloon animals to help finance her trip. She taught me how to make a flower and I questioned her about her trip. She said the best thing to do when chased by angry dogs is to roar at them. This sounded goofy to me, but there were stretches of the trip where I roared at dogs nearly everyday. It turned out to be the best kind of fun – weird and loud.
Another bike tourer ambled over to me and the balloon biker and said that he too was a bicycle tourist. He said he was riding to Europe on a boat. And that the winery in St. Augustine is a good place to get drunk. He may have been serious about going to Europe on a boat with a bike, but I couldn’t tell. Before slowly walking away he said a number of other things that didn’t make sense. He picked up balloon sculpting very fast though.
After that I went back to Hugh’s house to pack my panniers and get ready for the morning.