Westward on the Blue Bicycle

November 11, 2011. St. Augustine to East Palatka

I woke up alone in Hugh’s house to more bright sunshine. The palm trees of St. Augustine looked glorious but I was ready to see new landscapes.

I am very grateful that Hugh put me up for the first two nights of my trip. It made the hassle of losing a bag much easier to deal with. I took him out to dinner the night before I left and he told me more stories of his bike ride across the country.

I wanted to take it easy on the first day of pedaling. I hadn’t been riding much and I wanted to ease my knees and butt into the trip. Also, there’s a campground 40 miles East of St. Augustine and after that there’s nowhere to stay until Gainesville, which is 60 miles further. I did plenty of illegal camping on this trip, but I wanted to stay somewhere legal the first night.

I took my time getting out the door because I didn’t have far to ride. Pedaling through St. Augustine gave me a hopeful feeling that I get from sunny mornings. On the way out of town I stopped at a Winn Dixie to stock up on couscous, beans, candy, fruit, and bagels.

I rode out of town on highway 207. It’s a busy road but it has a bike lane, and then an eight-foot shoulder where the bike lane runs out. After that I got to a maze of small backroads with no traffic. The riding today was uneventful. Occasionally I saw old men fishing in murky green swamps on the side of the highway.

I stopped to eat at this church down a dirt road.

People in the South use gas stations in unexpected ways. They make all kinds of food in them. Some even sell chainsaws and lawnmowers. Even the closed gas stations were used in surprising ways. The locals used them as flea markets. One family would show up with a table and a bunch of stuff to sell, and then it would catch on and three or four families would start selling their furniture and old TV’s.

The gas stations that are still open (there was one open gas station for every two closed ones in this part of Florida) usually made pizza and burgers in a kitchen in the back. A lot of them also boiled seafood.

Whole families sold food outside of the closed gas stations too. I bought some dollar a pound tomatoes and a grapefruit at one abandoned gas station. A man with a giant pot was selling boiled green peanuts at the gas station across the street.

After a stop in Palatka, where I bought a chili dog from a vendor who was having a lively conversation about her husbands friends from jail, I turned around and backtracked over the bridge across the St. Johns River to a campground in East Palatka. The campground was like many of the places I camped in the South. I was the only one in a tent and everyone else lived there full time in there RV’s or trailers.

The Blue Bicycle was doing great except for the rear rack in reverse that I mounted over the front wheel. The piece of metal that was supposed to attach to the frame had to be manipulated and bent slightly to attach to the front fork. The bent piece was pressing down on my fender, causing it to rub on my tire unless the fender was in exactly the right position. My fender started off in the right position, but it’s finicky and every time something touched the fender it began rubbing on the tire. I was sick of pulling over to fix it, so I took it off at the campsite and drilled holes in it with my pocket knife until I could punch out the area that hit the rack. That was the last time I saw that pocket knife.

"Fixing" the front fender.

My stove wouldn’t light that night. I bought butane stove fuel the night before at Wal-Mart. My stove is supposed to burn Isobutane, so I thought that was the problem. I ate cold pinto beans with lots of avocado, tomatoes, and datil pepper hot sauce. It was pretty dark by the time I was done eating. Long nights were a hallmark of this trip. I went to bed early and got plenty of sleep most nights. I spent this particular evening sitting in a ditch and talking on my new phone, and reading and writing in my journal.

 The Journal

Without this journal I would have forgotten all but the best parts of the trip by now. When I look through it, I can usually remember where I sat and how I felt while writing in it.

I wrote in public bathrooms, gas stations, restaurants, parks and in my tent on the side of the road. This blog is based mostly on notes I made while sitting in bathrooms and in my tent. I was also reading A Confederacy of Dunces. It’s set in New Orleans, where I planned to take a few days off in the middle of the trip. I hoped to get there by Thanksgiving.

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