Today I unexpectedly covered over 90 miles from Eastpoint to Seacrest. I rolled into Central Standard Time some point west of Apalachicola and so I kinda gained an hour. I say sort of because the sun goes down when the sun goes down. It’s just earlier or later depending on what side of the line you’re on. However, there is a psychological effect that this has upon you when you realize that suddenly the time is two o’clock when you thought it was three. I still ended up cycling into darkness but arrived an hour earlier than I would have had I still been on Eastern Standard Time.
I felt really down last night and early this morning. Wanted to be away from the visitor’s center before nine o’clock, which is when they opened, and I was at quarter of. I was a bit surprised to see the employee not show up until exactly nine, but it saved me the trouble of having to explain myself to someone. Had a cold breakfast of muesli, banana, yogurt and peanut butter overlooking the Gulf, which was beautiful, unlike my mental state. However, no coffee because I couldn’t find the handle for my grinder after digging around a bunch for it, so I looked for coffee in Apalachicola and found some at The Apalachicola Chocolate and Coffee Company. It’s a cute little place. Coffee was terrible, but the baked goods were great. Had a delicious brownie covered in frosting, only some of which I ate while at the cafe; the rest I saved as much needed additional calories for the bike ride.
While at the cafe I sent out some WarmShowers requests because at the time I wasn’t sure where the hell I was going to be ending my day, much less where I might sleep. Called a guy who was okay with me staying the night to let him know I wouldn’t be in Seacrest because it’s 95 miles and I was pretty certain I wasn’t capable of putting in that distance today (of course here I am), or that I just didn’t want to. But this makes a perfect segue. Even though I did put in those 95 miles, that’s not something I want to do regularly (or again), especially having spent two weeks in Tally; my legs aren’t there. But at the same time despite the fact that being in Tally was awesome, I ought to be in New Orleans, or past New Orleans, right now, but I’m not. So I want to make up time, but after yesterday, feeling rough about two-thirds of the way through it and sleeping so poorly, it doesn’t make much sense. What is the point of the trip? It’s certainly not doing long days for the sake of doing long days. It’s to photograph the United States, and to write about my thoughts, feelings, and experiences. That is all. But there being a deadline for the start of this Australia trip of Doug’s is driving me up a wall. I hate deadlines, most especially when they interfere with my personal plans and projects. It’d be cool if I could get across the country, but at this point I don’t even know if I’ll make it to Houston or Austin. Probably Houston at least, but definitely not Big Bend National Park which is a place I dearly want to visit, and the thought of not getting there is disappointing, so I’m trying to knock out long days, but that’s not going to work for me. So I’m just going to pedal my bike, take it day by day from here on out. I’ll get to where I get to and there is no changing that. As Henry Miller says, “the main thing is food. Trust to Providence for the rest.” I keep that in the back of my mind all the time. Some of the time…
Anyway, while I was at the cafe I struck up conversation with a guy who had kayaked the Apalachicola river over the course of six or seven days and had just finished earlier that morning. He was meeting his wife in town and spending the day there. He showed me some photos of the river, how high it was and how fast it was running (FAST). Normally, he said, he likes to camp on sandbars, but there weren’t any the river was so high. He sleeps in a hammock though, so finding a place to hang it up wasn’t much of a problem for him. Brings an enormous solar panel with him too that is like the size of a twin bed sheet almost, but it folds up pretty small, though I’m skeptical how small something like that can fold up. He was a cool dude. Curious about my bike. I wish him and his wife the best.
I actually would have liked to have spent more time in Apalachicola. Seems a quaint tourist town now, but has a deep maritime history as the Apalachicola River, miles across at its mouth, is an enormous river that empties into the Gulf of Mexico. And there is still a community of working watermen there such as there are on some rivers that make up the watershed of the Chesapeake Bay, as well as the Bay itself. There is a photographer who has a studio in downtown Apalachicola, Richard Bickel, who’s done a lot of documentary work in that area amongst the communities of watermen. It’s beautiful stuff, printed in pretty large format some of them. A lot of posed works, which I don’t fault him for, but numerous candid photos of the men working and the boys playing, and some gorgeous atmospheric landscape pieces.
After leaving town I was surprised at how good I felt and how well I was moving along. In fact I felt great for almost the entirety of the ride, which was a remarkable change from yesterday. To the right of me and the left along Highway 98 were pine plantations only a few miles outside of town. Two enormous pine plantations. At least I think they’re plantations because they’re all growing in rows and that’s not really a thing nature does herself, like one doesn’t see clouds in regiments like one sees at a Navy football game with the marching on of midshipmen. The ocean waves roll onto shore as they roll into the shore, which is in some ways regular, but not exacting like a metronome in its regularity, and plants don’t drop their seeds in a straight line, and the wind and the animals don’t plant them in neat rows. This is a distinctly human characteristic, this type of organizational neurosis. But these pines some of them, I guess from the hurricane, are bending gracefully across rows, touching others gently as if to say “we’re still alive!” That is unless these bent ones are truly snapped somewhere, not bent, and then they’re grabbing onto the living in a sort of desperation, a fearful begging, terrified of what might come next.
It wasn’t until I got to Port St. Joe that I slowed down, and that was only because there, and further along in Mexico Beach, these towns were a demolition. Basically the closer you got to Panama City and Calloway, where the eye passed so i was told, the more calamitous everything looked and the worse the devastation was. I don’t even know how to explain the appearance of these places, to verbalize it, to paint a picture. It is a thing which has to be seen. One has to walk through the demolished neighborhoods, along the streets that were once impassable, completely washed away in places. Trees down, roofs ripped from houses, windows shattered, trash in the trees, refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers strewn about the streets, houses piles of rubble. Along a section of the coastal road in Mexico Beach there were regular mounds of concrete debris, almost like ant mounds, as though there was some care given in cleaning up and setting aside for removal what once was certain persons’ homes. I clearly remember passing one row of apartments or small homes that were built up on stilts, and one at an end had fallen into the one next to it, and that had collapsed into the next one, and that into the next, and it was this sort of weird dilapidated embrace of wood and vinyl and metal and concrete leaning to. One could imagine the slightest wind pushing the whole thing, all six or seven of these buildings, over into a heap. There were homes without windows, without anything. With new windows where there weren’t windows before: that is gaping holes in their walls. And people are still there trying to put their lives back together. There are a lot of contractors from all over rebuilding for people, repairing damaged buildings, building new buildings. Well, rebuilding for money of course, but the people who have money are those who are paying them. These contractors according to Marty my Warmshowers host come from all over—Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana… It’s sort of disgusting when you think of it. They smell blood, just like a pack of hyenas. And then these people who I guess want to move back once their house is rebuilt, I wonder if they’re a bit mad.
Speaking of Port St. Joe, as I was stopping here and there taking pictures on my way out of town I passed a couple of ladies who had some tents setup, and a sign for free food. Curiosity got the better of me and I turned around to see what the meaning of all this was. A man driving past actually shouted out his window to me to “get some free food!” So I got some free food. Free food for anybody! Burgers, hotdogs, baked beans, sodas, chips. It worked out for me, and all the while I’m sitting there eating these ladies are telling me I should come up and get some more, but I wanted to be able to ride my bike afterward. Still had a long way to go, and by this point I was pretty confident I could make it to Seacrest. While sitting there on a parking block I asked them what they were all about. In short, they’re from Pensacola but the lady has a small church in town—just a tiny, concrete structure. They were actually set up on the front lawn of it. The lady tells me that she prayed to God that if the building itself was spared, that is the walls were still standing, that regardless of whatever else was damaged she would repair and reopen it. And so she is. There was actually a man working inside while I was eating my lunch. I’m not sure who she’s aligned with out there—a church group, I suppose—but she tells them what she needs and they get it for her. Then the ladies set up here, give away food all day, go home, and come back the next day, on and on and on. Port St. Joe currently has no restaurants open, nor is there much in the way of markets for food; I recall only seeing a Dollar General Market on my way through. So they’ve been doing this for several days or weeks now. The generosity nearly brings me to tears. I’ve never seen anything like it before (the generosity nor the kind of destruction a hurricane brings), and this was two months ago. I imagine this will not be a most enjoyable Christmas for some people. But just the same, simply having a Christmas is something to give thanks for.
After Mexico Beach there is this insanely long stretch of straight road, that is actually kind of nice, that passes by, or bisects Tyndall Air Force Base. The base was a total demolition. Marty told me they aren’t running much of anything right now. I saw and heard three or four jets on the ride today so I guess they’re just running at low capacity. The place got steamrolled. Hangars and buildings ripped to shreds, because it’s all like basic, simple construction for that stuff, just sheetmetal and concrete. The air force lost some planes that were grounded to have work done to them, so they couldn’t get them out with the others that were evacuated. The hurricane just tore them up, sort of picked them up and tossed them around like a small child playing with his toys. That was a crazy stretch though. Super flat, and straight as an arrow for I don’t know how many miles. At least ten with maybe a slight curve. Then I crossed a pretty awful bridge with no shoulder into Parker and Callaway, and if I thought that Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe were bad, these two towns on the edges of Panama City were far worse. Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe are like gulf resort towns. There’s money, and so there was rebuilding going on. There was life there. There was a sunniness, a sense of hope. But these other places, Parker and Callaway, and a bunch of Panama City too, are like cities of the dead. They’re basically ghettos (using that term loosely as I was only cycling through), and it was pretty clear the money doesn’t exist to be able to clean up something like that. It all looked like a war zone, like an army marched through and annihilated everything, or plunked itself down on the perimeter and shelled the places with their artillery, everybody in town walking about shell-shocked, zombie like, half dead inside, hopelessly fouled up. I saw a sign in someone’s yard stating “You loot, I shoot.” However, once I passed through Panama City things cleaned up a bunch, and the rest of the twenty miles or so was just pretty easy pedaling.