November 17, 50 miles
Today started in some bushes and ended in a trailer in the heart of Tallahassee.
I woke up to warmth and sun shining through the bushes and into my camp. My tent was soaking wet and I didn’t have any hope of it drying out during the day. My nose was packed full of snot but I felt good otherwise.
I felt sneaky for getting another night of free sleep as I wheeled my bike back towards the road. As soon as I started moving my legs, the road greeted me with the familiar sound of rubber tires humming across a silent landscape. Even though I was soaked and kind of sick, I couldn’t stop smiling. The beginning of each day was always the best. I’m not sure which was better, having a whole day of new sights ahead or leaving behind what I’d already seen.
It was muggy, gray, and threatening to rain again when I got to Monticello. The backroads through Monticello are lined with white mansions. They all have tall columns supporting their roofs and even taller live oaks in the yards. At the west edge of town I left highway 90, which I had been on since Suwannee River State Park. I stopped at a fire station in search of water. Nobody was around, so I found a hose and filled up my bottles.
After Monticello the roads were nearly car-free. And there were hills! Not big ones, but small rolling ones. They gave something to focus on (the top). Some of the hills were even bigger than the bridge over the St. Johns River back in Palatka. The highest point in Florida is a hill near Tallahassee and it’s 345 feet above sea level. The sections of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana that I rode through were equally flat. I finally got to 500 feet above sea level in Texas but for the most part, this was a very flat bike ride.
I stopped for a lunch break at Natural Bridge Battlefield Statepark. As soon as I pulled in I saw two bicycles loaded with stuff leaning against some picnic tables. There owners were on another picnic table. It was the couple I had heard about back in St. Augustine, and then again from the Canadian guy.
I was excited to see them and I felt like I already knew them because I’d heard about them a few times. Of course, they had never heard of me. There names are Eric and Jen and they were one a week into a year long trip. Before their trip they didn’t ride bikes but they thought it would be cool to see the country from a bike seat, so they bought some bikes and hit the road. Jen quit her job and Eric was planning on contracting for his old employer from hotel rooms. Originally, he didn’t want to work at all on the trip, but when his boss said free hotel rooms were part of he deal he took it.
They planned to go west to California, then north to Washington and then make their way home (Boston?). They had good attitudes. They weren’t doing long days on their bikes, but were instead concentrating on having fun. They pedaled off towards Tallahassee and left me behind to finish my grapefruits. I told them I’d try to catch them on the way to town, but I never saw them again.
Earlier in the day I lined up a Warmshowers.org stay in Tallahassee. I had directions to the place, but I managed to get lost several times on the way there. My host, Gene, lives in the city limits of Tallahassee, but down a hidden dirt road next to the railroad tracks. I finally got there at dusk and was welcomed by Gene and one of his girlfriends.
Gene was very talkative and excited. He is a lifelong Southerner, but he hopes to move to Northwestern Washington once he finishes nursing school. I did some laundry at his house and set my stuff up to dry out while he cooked a feast. Unfortunately, my cold reached it’s apex at Gene’s house. We talked a lot about bike touring and northwest, but a lot of my speech sounded like, “Thag you very buch.”
Gene asked about my route and I told him I was going to stay mostly on the Adventure Cycling Route to Austin. “That’s not what I would do,” was his response. “It’s your trip, but if I were you, I would ride along the Gulf Coast all the way to New Orleans.”
I wasn’t sold on it right away, but I started thinking. The Adventure Cycling Route does go along the Gulf Coast for 50 miles or so, but not until Alabama. I knew when I got there it would be really nice and I hated to miss so much of the coast when I was so close. Before the night was over I decided that I would turn South from Tallahassee and head for the Gulf. That could put me on the beach as early as the next day.