The Gulf of Mexico

November 19, Ochlockonee River State Park to Edward Ball Wildlife Management Area?

Welcome to another week of armchair bike-touring. You may be wondering how much longer I’ll be in Florida. After all I’ve been writing about America’s dangling appendage for weeks. Believe it or not, by the end of the week I’ll still be in Florida. But not next week. So hang on for one more week, and then the states will start flying by.

Here’s the first paragraph from my journal for November 19:

I’m eating bean, couscous and cheese burritos. It’s a beautiful morning. I’m going to try to do a lot of miles today.

I still wanted to make it to a hostel in New Orleans by the of Thanksgiving day. It was more than 400 miles away. The previous day was the first day where I enjoyed the whole ride. Every day before that, I was tired and ready to quit by the last 10 miles. I was finally getting stronger and just in time too.

Here’s the second paragraph of my journal:

I just rode a long way in the wrong direction. Into a vicious headwind.

Leaving Ochlockonee River State Park

I ate as much as I could for breakfast. I could always eat a meal – even after eating a meal. my camp neighbor, a retired guy from Telluride, Colo., came over after breakfast and brought some delicious toasted bread with butter and raw honey. I met him the night before when we were both wandering around and staring at the stars. Did I mention the stars in Florida were much brighter than I expected? I didn’t catch the guy’s name, but he drove from Telluride to Florida to enjoy the late-fall sunshine.

He was going to hang around Ocklockonee River State park for a few more days and search for birds and remnants of old-growth pines. “This is just a nice-feeling place,” he said. I felt the same way. Ochlockonee River was the most peaceful place I’d been so far. The tall pines and golden sunshine felt insulated from the sound of the outside world. Like an island. I asked my new friend what the highway along the coast was like, because he had driven that road on the way. He said there’s not many cars and not many hippies on bikes either.

During the night, my shorts had blown off the tree where I hung them to dry. They were still damp, so I put on a different pair and bungee corded the wet ones to my bike. At times I had three or four damp garments hanging off my bike. The wet cotton and lycra flapping in the breeze gave the Blue Bicycle a rugged, nomadic look

I said goodbye to the Telluride guy and gave him a copy of my zine. He said he was a reader and he’d check it out.

Ten miles later I was riding along the Gulf Coast. The Coast in this part of Florida is grassy and full of fishing and shrimping boats. Further east, where the beaches are sandy, the gulf coast crawls with tourists. Here it had a blue-collar feel.

At noon I got to a town called East Point, which is on the east side of East Bay. From town, Highway 98 crosses the bay on a 3.5-mile bridge ending in Apalachicola. Another long bridge goes from East Point to a barrier island called St. George Island, which has a State Park, an exclusive resort/gated housing community, and not much else. The Telluride guy recommended the camp ground on St. George Island, but it was still early and I wanted to keep riding.

The highway going into East Point was narrow so when I saw a fork in the road, I took it. The fork had me riding through a neighborhood right next to the water. Eventually, East Point ran out and I had to get on the long bridge. The wind picked up once I got out over the bay. I seemed to be riding directly into it. I leaned into the wind and pedaled at about five miles an hour on the wide shoulder of the bridge. There was no where to go and not much room to stop, so I kept pedaling slowly and tried to enjoy the view of the bay. When I was about halfway across, I started to wonder if I was even on the right bridge. Why was I riding into the wind, when on land it had been blowing from the side?

A barrier ran through the middle of the bridge, so even if I was certain that I was on the wrong bridge I wouldn’t have been able to turn around. I pedaled slowly forward, passing the time by counting expansion joints and holding my breath when I passed dead birds.

After a half hour, I could see a sign at the end of the bridge but I couldn’t yet make it out.

“Welcome to St. George Island,” it said. My heart sand. My slow ride into the wind was in the wrong direction. There’s only one bridge onto St. George Island so I had to go back by the way I came. I wasn’t ready to face that yet, so I went to the bar of the island’s cheapest restaurant and ate an oyster po’ boy and drank sweet tea for $20. Now that I was on the island I considered camping at the State Park, but it was still early and I’d never make it to New Orleans on Thanksgiving if I didn’t get going.

The four-mile trip back across the bridge was fast. The raging tail wind pushed me to East Point in no time. I drank some water and then got on the correct bridge.

Downtown Apalachicola

Apalachicola is a cute fishing town that is also touristy. Or at least, I thought it was touristy at the time. That was before I had seen Panama City and Destin – real Gulf Coast tourist traps. I wrote a few post cards and walked around town for a while, before pedaling west past the John Gorrie Museum. Gorrie, a longtime Apalachicola resident, invented the first ice-making machine in 1851.

To make up for lost time, I pedaled non-stop all afternoon. I rode through pine forests and swamps as the sun set. Just before dark, I pitched my tent behind some palmettos and tall bushes on a sandy road in a Wildlife Management Area.

The view from my camp spot

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