We woke up refreshed from our comforting stay at Linda’s B&B. We were on the road at 8am and stopped by a Micky D’s on the way. Destination for the day–Tallahassee. Nothing like starting a 70 mile ride with a couple bacon, egg and cheese biscuit sandwiches lingering around in your stomach. Hey, when there is a 2 for $3 deal, you can’t turn it down. I also got a breakfast burrito off the dollar menu for a snack down the road. We ran into a couple different nice, southern gentlemen who couldn’t believe where we were going. “You goin’ where now son?!” “Yes, sir, San Diego…California.” …”Well God be with you boy, you got a long way to go.” And yes we did.
We rode the 90 west for the entire way to Tallahassee. About twenty miles in, Oso pulled over and started complaining about the intense pain in his knees (big surprise, right?). But the look on his face said it all. He looked more demoralized than when I used to embarrass him for games on end in Fifa ‘13 in front of our students in Paraguay. It was a spur-of-the moment decision, but I told Oso to detach his trailer. We are a team, and we needed the bear healthy. Plus, the ride today was going to be one of the longest of our trip, so I figured we should lighten his load a little. I put the trailer on the back of my bike and tried to pretend that it was full of feathers. It wasn’t.
This thing probably weighed about 70-80 pounds, and with my paniers it felt like I was pulling a UHAUL. But the show must go on. We were making good time and Oso had a little pep in his step. He led the way for most of the ride. It started misting, which made the surrounding scenery super eerie. Swampy, wet lands drenched in fog and mist. Now we were in the South.
(If your name is Cathy Ross, please proceed to the next paragraph). After an epic uphill, I started to coast on the equally as epic downhill. I tried to rest my forearms on the center of my handlebars like I sometimes did in days past. As I was approaching 20-25 mph with my elbows on the handlebars, I soon realized that the equilibrium on my bike was a little different with the UHAUL attached to the rear of my bike. I started wobbling like a fighter after getting a Pacquiao left hook to the dome in the tenth round. Before I knew it, I was down for the count. I went over the handlebars and immediately recalled my Slip-n-slide skills from my youth and kept my limbs off the ground so I would just skid. Becuase I was wearing padded biking gloves, my hands were damaged. My two layers of under armor tops also prevented any road rash. Even more, the wet ground made it so that I just slid for a little instead of tumbling. My watch fell off, but I looked at my bike and everything was in tact. SCORE! First tumble of the trip, had to get it out of the way. And don’t worry, I was off on the shoulder and safe away from traffic!
I started riding again and realized the my derailer was a little bent. I called Hayden from Sprokets and he told me to bend it a little inward so that I would be able to ride to Tallahassee and get it to a bike shop. About ten miles from the city, there was a massive swamp on the right side of the highway. The surface of the water was completely calm, and it was so silent you could hear a pin drop. I had an apple and then chucked the core as far as I could. The ripples spread for about 100 meters.
Now by taking the 90 the whole way into Tallahassee, we cut off about ten miles off the route on our biking map. The map lead us really far south so that we could enter a state park and ride a ten mile bike path into town. We got to the beginning of the city and ran into a couple who was walking/hitchhiking to San Diego. What a trip. In the middle of the conversation, a pickup pulled over, they threw their stuff in the trunk bed, and were gone like the wind.
We continued our way into the center of the city. We had no idea how big it was. Turns out, it’s the capital of Florida. Looks like someone didn’t do too well on their states/capitals quiz in elementary school. I’m not sure where the Tour de France mappers got their inspiration for the hill-portions of the race, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they used the 90 west route into Tallahassee. I felt like I was climbing the Himalayas. On top of that I was carrying Oso’s trailer, complete with detergent, face wash, his make up kit, hair dryer, and multiple skin lotions. I wouldn’t be surprised if there were a few Tobati-made bricks in there. That thing was heavier than a pick up. But I went into Lance mode (when he was doping/on PEDs), and stayed in my happy place. “I’m in my zen…I feel no pain…I’m in my zen…I feel no pain.”
On our way we passed FSU’s campus, the football stadium, and a university bike shop. We stopped and talked to the employees for a while. They were all pretty serious bikers, and were incredulous that a couple of rookies had just picked up a couple of bikes and started on a tour of this proportion. One of the guys, George, was particularly cool. Not to mention, each of his quadriceps was bigger than my waist. I mean, seriously, this guy was no joke. He was telling us how he bikes around the city drafting UPS trucks and stuff.
We finally made it to our couchsurfers place. Chad, a bearded fellow with funky hair and a great attitude, greeted us in the yard and led us into the back where we stored our stuff. He introduced us to the rest of the roommates, Kevin, Sherry, and the dog Snowbear. They were all so friendly and eager to hear about our story. I talked for a while with Kevin about the journey he is going to embark on in a couple months–walking across the country to raise money for a diabetes foundation (check out his info at http://www.dahlacrossamerica.org/). After the long day of towing the pick-up truck tied to my bike, I was for some reason still running on adrenaline. I treated myself to a delicious IPA at a local campus pub, and then Sherry gave me a tour of the football stadium. Abby, the last roommate and an absolute sweetheart, came back from work later and brought us all sandwiches. She works at a deli and was able to score free subs. LUCKY US!
That night Oso and I checked the weather and saw that there was a 100% chance of rain for most of the day the next day. Tornado warnings too. Looks like another off day was coming. Honestly, it wouldn’t be the worst thing. We could rest up a little, repair our bikes, and watch the Pats-Colts game. I slept HARD that night.
Off day in Tallahassee
I had some coffee in the morning and regained feeling in my legs. After a nice shower, I was ready for the day of errands. Sherry lent us her car and Oso and I went around town searching for paniers. He was fed up with the trailer. Their relationship had been volatile for a long time, and it finally reached a breaking point. Oso, one of the most patient, easy-going bears I know, was ready to take an axe to that thing. We went to a couple different bike shops, bought some Gu (more on that later), and upgraded to paniers. We then stopped by the bike shop and met a guy named John. He took a look at our bikes, then looked at us, then looked back at the bikes. “Ya’ll been riding on these things like this?” he asked us. “Well yes, sir,” I responded with my head tilted downwards. He continued looking at the bikes, shaking his head and grunting from time to time. Apparently there were all types of things off with the bikes. He fixed my derailers, adjusted my wheels, evened out my brakes, cleaned the chain, and did a whole tuneup. He did the same for Oso. The entire repair session turned into about a 1.5 hour crash course for things to be aware of with the bike. We felt like teenagers who had been lent Daddy’s ride for the afternoon and returned it with nicks and scratches all over it.
I noticed that Oso had disappeared for a while. “Where did he go?” I thought to myself. I walked around the shop and found him standing in front of the “saddle section” of the stoor. His glance upwards, jaw down, a bit of drool seeping from his bottom lip, he noticed my presence and looked at me like he had just won the lotto. Within a matter of minutes he had bought a new, heavy-duty gel saddle. It was his baby. He had developed a pretty nasty saddle sore the day before, so naturally he felt like Christmas had come early with the new, gelly seat.
It was time to pay. “How much do we owe you?” we asked. John (the mechanic) looked at us and replied, “Ya know, I don’t really know what to charge ya. I kind of feel bad for ya so I’m just gonna charge you for the seat.” “Awesome!” we thought. We saved a buck from not having to pay for the tune-ups, but we were also served another reminder of just how imposing this trip was for a couple of amateurs. Another skeptic, another reason to succeed. (Although John was a great help and we are truly grateful).
We went back to the house and snacked on some more free subs that Abby got from work. We all watched the Pats-Colts game and witnessed the magic that was Legarrette Blount. Pats win! We took a family photo, and then it was time for bed because the next day we had another epic ride to Marianna, FL (65-70 miles).
I got up and had a couple cups of coffee and we ready for the road. We did hugs with all of the roommmates, and took a picture of Snowbear (a staple of the trip, taking pictures with all of the dogs we meet).
Our ride went great for the first half of the trip. At one point, we saw a couple of dogs waiting for us on a lawn about 50 meters in front of us. I looked at Oso, he looked at me, and we had a mutual, “Let’s do this!” We steadily worked our way into cruising speed, waiting for the dogs to make the first moves. They were bucking like horses, rubbing their paws in the dirt and kicking up mud behind them. They both started sprinting after us. I quickly made my way into warp speed, and I went into tunnel vision–only focusing on the white checkered line in front of me. I felt one of them on my side, but I did not allow him to deter my detention. I must have hit 25 mph on a straight away–too much for the pup. We made it out safely and after we had an epic high five. We had learned our lesson about letting dogs get into our head. Oso was a little nervous after the pitbull incident on the first day, but he’s since learned that he has to be more steady with the reins and kick it into gear when necessary. Later, Oso told me that one of the dogs was running so fast and focusing on us so hard that he tripped and fell when he didn’t notice a five foot ditch in front of him. Tough luck, bud! Maybe next time you’ll learn not to mess with Bear & company. Feeling exhilerated with about 40 miles to go, I took a Gu. A Gu is packed with nutrients and is supposed to help your performance/recovery by relieving your muscles of the lactic acid buildup. I had only heard about the Gu before from my ex-girlfriend from college who ran the Boston Marathon in 2010. It’s very popular among marathon runners and long-distances bikers, and gives their body a much needed boost when they are feeling down and out. I took one and felt like Superman for a while. Maybe it was mental, who knows. But I went into Lance mode again and we were cruising.
We passed Chattahoochee, which is a small town that is home to one of the largest state mental hospitals in Florida. We made sure not to pick up any hitchhikers. We were making good time, and made the mistake of stopping at a Hardee’s (which is basically Carl’s Jr. I think). We each ate way too big of a burger with fries, and felt like sloths. We were only twenty miles away we thought. NOTHING!
The meal was a big mistake. I started seeing mirages on the home stretch with beds, pillows and cable TV. We were supposed to meet a couchsurfer that night, but she had to cancel last second. We boogied through the city because it was getting dark. We saw a tourist sign leading us to a door with a couple numbers on it. We called, and nice woman by the name of Judy picked up. Turns out, Judy owned the B&B that the Tourist info sign had directed us too. “That darn sign leads everyone to my phone number, I tell ya” she explained to me. Judy and I got to talking, and I explained that we were looking for a place to stay. We talked about our trip and our work in Paraguay, and she took us in at an UNBELIEVABLE discount. I’ve been so pleasantly surprised by the generosity of Southern folks. We were the only ones at the B&B, and they told us we could eat/drink whatever was in the fridge! We feasted like racoons that had somehow made their way into a garage refrigerator full of meat. We had cookies, made biscuits and pancakes, and watched the Colts vs. Chargers game on TV. We had an early night and were in bed by 10pm.
Marianna–Ponce de Leon–50 miles
We got out of Marianna at a decent hour and were on our way to Defuniak Springs. This was the last city on the first of our seven maps. Rain was forecasted for the afternoon, so we wanted to make it to Defuniak before Mother Earth started sobbing. We made great time again, but got stuck in a city called Ponce de Leon because of the rain. And it was RAINING. We were ten miles from Defuniak Springs, but we figured we could wake up extra early and make up the mileage the next day.
We found a motel with that was run by a nice Indian lady. The office had lots of Hindu art around the walls. We lounged in the room. I took a little snooze and Oso did some research on Warm Showers (basically a Couchsurfers for the cycling community). We worked on the blog a little. I took a warm bath and my muscles felt exponentially better afterwards. I journaled for a little, then got an early nights rest.
Ponce de Leon–Milton–80 miles
Now THIS was one epic day of riding. We were up and out of there at 7:15am. We had to make up a little ground because of the rain from the day before. We had a family that was expecting us in Milton that night, so we had to make it there. In Defuniak Springs, we stopped at a produce shop along the side of the road. We got to talking to a nice man whose name was Paul. He was interested in our trip, and ended up giving us a bag full of apples, bananas, grapefruits, and lemons–all for free. Gotta love that Southern Hospitality. We took 90 west the whole time. Riding wise, we had some headwinds, but nothing that we weren’t used to. We knew it was a big day. I took a couple Gu’s a couple hours in between each other. We stopped outside a gas station and made a couple PBJ’s. About fifty miles in, we were still about 30 miles away from Al’s house (our host for the night). I was behind Oso, and I saw him drop a card into the mailbox for a gorgeous property sitting on about 100 acres of farmland. We had been doing this along the trip as a way to promote awareness for the cause.
All of the sudden, I notice a big, white pick up swing across the highway onto the side of the road, right next to Oso. He swung open the door and put his front foot forward with a sense of urgency. I smelled trouble, so I quickly biked over to Oso. The old man raced towards Oso and asked, “Can I help you?” But his tone suggested that the translation was really– “What in the heck are you doin’ son!” Oso explained that we were doing a charity ride and he was going to put a card in the mailbox because he thought the property was so beautful. He had even written a note on the card that said, “Beautiful property!” He handed the card to the man who quickly reprimanded Oso for his wrongdoing. “I work for the Post Office, and I tell you right now if I wanted to I could put you in jail.” I thought to myself…”Hmmmm, sir, I doubt you have a property like this working for the post office…but OK.” This guy was just a hard-ass looking to give us a tough time. I expained that we meant no harm, and Oso even held out his hand to shake. It stood there for over 15 seconds before the man shook it. I had a lot of thoughts going through my head at the time about the conduct of this older gentleman. For the purpose of the blog, I’ll just say that my thoughts were something along the lines of “Well THIS elder gentleman has sure lost touch with his Christian values!”
Soon enough, another pickup screeched up on the other side of us. There were two other people in the car, and I sensed that we should get out of there. It was as if the first guy had a panic button that he pressed when he saw us near the mailbox that signaled the nearest rednecks to come a runnin’! My redneck radar has drastically improved since the start of the trip, and it was BUZZIN right about now. This was really the only time we ran into a group of unpleasant people during our couple weeks of riding.
We made the stretch to Milton, and by the time we made it to Al’s, we logged close to 80 miles that day. I downloaded this app on my phone and tried it out that day. It tells you how far you biked and your average mph. I’m not sure if it registered our rest time, but it was still pretty cool to see our progress.
We met Al and talked on the couch for a while. It was quite the effort to keep my eyes open, but I didn’t want to be rude– I was just so exhausted. Turns out Al was quite the interesting dude. He was in Vietnam and flew helicopters daily along the Ho Chi Minh Trail daily. After the war, he flew helicopters around Florida with and put out forest fires. He even took part in controlled burning of certain areas from time to time. His wife Sally, he met in Alaska. He had seen her a total of three times before asking her to marry him. “Sometimes you just know,” he explained to us. Sally was an author and even gave us one of her books as a gift! She signed it and we told her that we would bring it to Paraguay so that our students could have the opportunity to read it. “I’ll be an international author!” Sally erupted with joy.
Al was an incredibly humble and accepting Christian. He was forced into retirement because a complicated back surgery didn’t allow him to fly anymore. You could tell it broke his heart a little not being able to fly. “When I was flying, I could FEEL the helicopter like it was part of my body.”
He now spent his time working at the Boys & Girls Club in Milton. He had made his way up to a board member position. He works as a tutor with a lot of the kids who need extra help. He was particularly impassioned with a young boy of Cambodian decent who although was only six years old, was tutoring fifth graders in math. As we explained to him the work that we were doing in Paraguay, he suggested that we stay the next day and go into the Club to meet the kids and give a presentation.
The idea intrigued us. Although a big part of the trip is the physical rigor of the journey, we also want to promote service to as many people as possible and spread awareness about our mission at our school in Paraguay.
The next morning over coffee, Al explained to us the story of a young man that had stayed with him the year before. He was a 22 year old kid, and started on a bike trip from California all the way across the country. Except he went north to Canada, and made his way down to Chicago where he got his bike stolen. He got another set of wheels and made his way all the way to Florida. By himself. But he wasn’t finished. He sold his bike in Florida, bought a baby stroller, and then decided to walk/jog across the country back to California. See mom, there ARE people crazier than me out there.
By the time Andy (the kid) made it to Al’s house, he had sores and blisters all over his feet. That day he walked/ran 80 miles into Milton. We did that on bikes and had trouble keeping our sanity after. He ran it. Al and his wife Sally soaked his feet in salt water, put neosporin on the sores and nursed him back to health over a span of four days. He was then on his way. And he made it to California. Todo es posible.
Later that day we went to the Boys & Girls Club and met Ronna, the director. She gave us a tour of the facility. I used to help out a little at the B&G Club in Boston during my senior year in college, so it was nice to get back . The kids came in around 2pm, and we got to hang with them and watch them play kickball. I soon became nostalgic about my playground days where I used to reign as the king of kickball (at least that’s how I remember it).
After snack, Oso and I gave our presentation to the kids. We talked a little bit about our stories, how we met, and how we both ended up working at the ICRM in Paraguay. We stressed the importance of service and taking advantage of the opportunities that are given to you. Most of these kids were 5-10 years old, so I was surprised that we kept their attention for the better part of 30 minutes! After our talk, we showed them the video that is on our gofundme site. They loved it! I’m not sure how much of what we said stuck with them, because they were only kids. But after the presentation a few of them came up and gave us hugs. We handed out some of our cards with the maps on them and they were all really excited.
We made our across the Florida border into Alabama and stayed the night with a couple named Scott and Rhonda.
They made us some tea and had a delicious dinner of mac n’ cheese, vegetables, and cookies for dessert. We stayed up for a while talking and swapping stories from the road. The couple did their own tour around Florida and took their time with it. I would love to do that sometime down the line when I have no pressing obligations. Unfortunately, we have to be in Paraguay for the KO community service trip that starts on March 10, so we have a bit of a deadline. I crashed on the couch, Oso on the spare bed.
Orange Beach, AL—Grand Bay, AL—60 miles
We were up at 6. I had some oatmeal and coffee, and then prepared my bike for an early departure. We were close to 30 miles from the Mobile Bay Ferry, which left at 10:15 am. We NEEDED to be on that ferry in order to make good time. We left the house at 7:30, and made great time. It was so nice biking that early in the morning, and for some reason the bike computer on my bike started to work! It had been out of commission for the past week, but the 34 degree weather seemed to revive it back to life. There was no wind. NONE! We were averaging 14-16 mph the whole way there. We felt like true cyclists–riding with nothing holding us back. We were confident on the open road, and making tremendous time.
We thought there would be a food stand at the ferry, but once we got there the woman told us that the closest place was 2 miles in the other direction. I had 30 minutes. I JET! I went into Lance mode and raced towards the “Tacky Shack.” I put in an order for two breakfast sandwiches, met a nice group of people from St. Louis who informed me of Clayton Kershaw’s new, record-breaking contract, and took off once I got the sandwiches. I pretended like I was in the homestretch of a race. I made it just as the cars were loading the ferry. Oso and I enjoyed a nice rest on the ferry and ate like kings–two breakfast sandwiches, some PBJ sandwiches, crumbled chocolate donuts from days prior, and even some nuts. Breakfast of champions!
We got off the ferry and made our way through Dauphin Island and over the Gordon Persons Bridge. Gorgeous scenery. After the bridge we went through Alabama Port and made our way to Bayou la Batre where a lot of Forest Gump was filmed. We strolled through the town and Oso realized that he had a problem with his chain. It was rideable, but we needed to find a bike shop and quick. We realized that we were out in the cut and there wasn’t a shop in sight. We stopped for lunch and split a burger and some BBQ wings. The employees there told us that Forest Gump’s house was really close to us, so we decided to go on an adventure to find it. We biked all over the place and followed this girl’s backwards directions. I THINK we may have found it, but I am really not sure. The down side–Oso’s bike was deteriorating, and quickly.
Now, I was always used to the nice, calm, friendly, patient bear. This chain situation was so frustrating though that at one point he got off his bike, threw it down and said, “Dude, can’t do it anymore. I’m walking.” I knew he was frustrated, but I was worried because we were on highway 90 with no shoulders and the prospect of walking into nightfall did not seem too smart. Oh ya, we were 10 miles away from our destination. I sensed his volatility. We had been on the road long enough where we were able to pick up on these types of things. I kept my distance and let him cool off. He was on the verge of having an epic freak out. But he held it together. He found his zen. He went into his bear cave and went into his mental hibernation mode. He rode his breaking-down bike in the lowest possible gear for the last ten miles. We reached our destination probably a little more than an hour later. We were going to stay with a host family that night–The Jordans. As we were pulling on their road, they came up behind us and greeted us. What great timing–they were just coming home from work.
They took us in and fed us snacks. We met the kids. The Jordans were really interested in our background at the school because they are both educators. We ate a delicious meal together and Liam (the youngest son) gave the blessing. He even thanked the Lord for providing us for a safe trip to their home. Good lookin’ out, Liam! We had rice, corn bread, and some beans and sausage that had been chillin’ in the crockpot for the whole day. I had seconds, took a shower, and went into a deep state of post-grub relaxation.
The dad even offered to take us to a bike shop the next day in order to get Oso’s bike fixed. I mean COME ON! What great luck we are having. Meeting new people and staying with such amazing families has been our favorite part of the trip so far. Everyone in the south is so accommodating and treats you like they are on of your own (minus the dude from the mailbox incident). We were so grateful for their generosity. We stayed up for a while talking and looking at the maps. The bike shop where we were going to go was in a small town called Gautier, MS. As we studied the map, I realized that we could take 90 all the way to the Gulf Coast and then head into New Orleans. I have some great friends there, Teddy Newmeyer, Mary Scinto, and Chris Staudinger in particular, that I haven’t seen in way too long. I called Teddy and explained the situation. “You’re staying here Saturday, and we are watching football Sunday. End of story,” he told me. Hey, I wasn’t going to argue. Catch some familiar faces and watch the football game of a lifetime (Pats vs. Broncos) with one of my best buds growing up? Sign.Me. Up.
So we are going off route a bit. We are heading much farther south that the Southern Tier map dictates. But Ted said that he could borrow his buddy’s bike rack and give us a ride back to where we need to be on our map after the weekend. Oh, how god is good. I called Scinto and Staud and told them the situation. Tomorrow afternoon we should all be meeting up.
Gautier, MS—Gulfport, MS–35 miles
I’ve written this entire blog while sitting at this awesome cafe in Gautier by the name of Delo’s Heavenly House of Coffee. We were dropped off here at 7:30 because the bike shop didn’t open till 9:30. We met the lovely owner, Delorise and the rest of her overly friendly employees. We had a blueberry muffin, a bagel with cream cheese and a cappuccino. Delo just told me to sit tight because she is going to go and pick us up some sandwiches for the road. Just lovin’ this southern hospitality and my ability to say ya’ll! Oso just got back from getting his bike fixed. We are going to eat these sandwiches and then get going. Gulfport tonight, NOLA manaña.
We’ve learned to set a mission for the day, and then just complete it. Complications are going to arise. That’s inevitable. You can either give up and get frustrated, or find a way to resolve it. Problems exist to be solved. Get from point A to B, and don’t let anything stop you. Keep things small, and it won’t overwhelm you. While you’re on the road on a long stretch, it’s pointless to stare at the endless abyss miles down the road. You can’t see it or make it out clearly. You have to focus on what’s in front of you and by the end of the day the trees and roads that were earlier blurry will be clear as ice.
Hasta la proxima!