Tag Archives: bicycle touring

Version 0.20


I was feasted by the owner of Myers Rv Campground–I think she said her name was Joleen, or something to that effect. I’m not quite sure why she fed me so, unless she was really that desperate to get rid of the food from the “party” she had last night, or she realized that as a cyclist I would be very hungry, or maybe she is just this generous with everyone. All I know is that I was feasted to the brim on gumbo, rice, veggies, dessert and now I am satisfied and all the mosquitoes in my tent are dead. No finding refuge in here, no siree!

I went to Avery Island my first day in New Iberia for a TABASCO tour, and I’m reminded of this because I kept my rather large ticket as a bookmark, and on the side currently facing up, which I hadn’t bother to read as it’s something like a crest or seal, it states: “Avery Island “Man and Environment In Balance””. They do a lot of environmental conservation on the “island”, which, if you’re interested you can read about briefly here. I shall like to go back some day as I didn’t pay the fee to wander the jungle gardens within which there resides a large Buddha statue from, supposedly, the 12th century—quite a wonder! The gardens are themselves too a wonder.

In the distance, the middle-near distance, a cow moo’s, and another, and that is a wonder. A mournful kind of wonder, though. And fifty yards straight on is an oak wreathed with Spanish moss lit up by a lamp, the moss radiating light faintly, like a phantom, like horror stories from nineteenth century African(-American) slaves. And THAT is a wonder, a fearful, savage, sad wonder.

All these fucking RV’s are humming with the energy of their generators, or whatever is producing electricity for their microwaves, tv’s, air conditioners, stereos, computers, or whatever it is to run. I don’t know if that’s a wonder or not. I suppose it’s a technological wonder. But what I can’t understand is why when camping one wants all that noise and blather around. Where went the sanctifying peace and quiet of nature? The soft and continuous chirp of crickets. Or the mysterious crunch and rustle of leaves as a curious creature scurries past. Inside their five insulated walls they miss all this with their televisions and stereos blowing static, and they miss the mournful lowing of the cow, and the “who cooks for you” of the barred owl, and the chatter and squeaking that has just sprung up out of the darkness like hundreds of rubber duckies squeezed over and over in a sort of distant musical cacophony.

Of all our senses I think the sense of hearing is the most mysterious. All these ethereal tinglings of hair follicles in one’s auditory canal. Things perceived at a distance just far enough away so that you can not quite make it out visually, or so nearby that you might step on it but unable to discern where at all it is, and so unfamiliar that even if you could see it it would be almost meaningless. Sound can come from anywhere and be transmitted through anything. It floats on air, is carried by the wind, is the wind itself. It is like millions of taut wires protruding from your ears in countless directions being tripped by tiptoeing feet or colossally heavy hammers or butterfly wings of dynamite. We hear things in the dark, and may, through their agency, be brought into the light, yet we may hear things in broad daylight and be pitched into an impenetrable black.


Version 0.19


Another day.

Another day spent questioning what I am doing, or, rather, why I am doing. Most of this stemming from thoughts abut the self-guided tour of the TABASCO facility: of was it worth the money ($5, which is very little, really) on a Sunday when no one is there working, and so the bottling plant, which is where I would see any activity, is just a large room with a lot of inert machinery, instead of a place humming, alive with employees applying themselves to whatever tasks are tasked them. You might say it’s like going to see an opera on a day that it’s not being performed, and paying for a ticket anyway, and going to your seat and sitting for two or three hours. Well, the theater it’s being performed in might be beautiful, but what’s the point of rustling up the price of a ticket to sit amongst the old bones, to stare up at that sternum and ribs vaulting over you like a cage just to look out on an empty black? It’s the musicians and actors, the set design and props that put flesh on the skeleton, that are the blood and the heart and the lungs that give it life, that enable it to move one to tears or make him laugh uproariously or gasp in astonishment. That’s what people go to the opera for. Not to stare at a skeleton, no matter how old or fascinating it might be! Leave that to the archaeologists and historians to sweep away the dust from the bones, and inform you on just which date it was born and how old it was when it died…

I was interrupted mid-thought for dinner with my hosts, and now I’m back a different person. The way they talk, these two! And their life experiences! Their knowledge and feeling for the South, but Louisiana in particular, is a beautiful, admirable thing. It’s like finding a pearl hidden amongst all the junk and trash and sediment of the road, or on the banks of some garbage-strewn bayou. It shines with the light of a thousand suns, and its flame is fanned by all of these crazy yet simple contraptions that have been collected and refurbished so that they work and shine like they are new, and are placed just so on the shelves and tables like so many trophies and pictures of loved ones smiling down at one affectionately. “Would you like to go on a bicycle ride around town? We can eat at such and such a place and you can take a tour of Shadows. It’ll be fun and easy. New Iberia is small so it won’t take much time at all, and there’s a lovely city park just the other side of The Teche. Or how about some open-water fishing? I can tell you the fish like to congregate around the oil rigs out there in the gulf. If you get hungry again Kathy’ll make you some of that delicious shrimp gumbo. NO tomatoes in gumbo, and the stock is made from boiled shrimp heads like it should be. And you know why Louisiana has such a French character, or at least it used to, well the English who were busy settling Canada and the northern United States didn’t like these French mongrels and kicked ’em out and they somehow ended up in Spain and later a deal was cut whereupon the Spanish shipped ’em into the swamps of Louisisana and then you got cajun cooking. If you need some salt to season anything just head on over to these places called “islands.” They’re not really islands, but just look it as they’re large mounds surrounded by swampland, but these mounds are solid, subterranean mountains of salt forced up out of the earth like a pimple. If you go to Avery Island you can get yourself some TABASCO sauce and pray at the buddha all together. The camelias might be just beginning to bloom too. And when you’re done all that just come back to the house and we’ll feed you some more and we’ll give you a history of Mardi Gras, how it’s a Catholic event, Fat Tuesday preceding Ash Wednesday and all, and you can look at these pictures in the creole cookbook of how the holiday is celebrated out in the country because it is far different from what they do in New Orleans.”

So, now I am relaxed and happy with a full belly and WILL be taking a tour of Shadows tomorrow and getting a Po’ Boy and eating at Victor’s Cafeteria, and God knows what else. The bike trip. Ah, the bike trip. I’m less concerned about that now. What comes, comes. I’m just here to record the experience.

Version 0.18


Leaving New Orleans today.
Don’t really feel like it.
Don’t feel like it at all.
Not sure what I want to do, though. Apply for hire at this wonderful, little bakery and cafe that I’m currently writing this at and learn how to make delicious breads and vegan treats. This trip has just been so disjointed. Like a bloody asthmatic trying to run up a dusty mountain trail: all fits and starts and stopping to take breaths off the inhaler. I haven’t had a chance to build up any kind of momentum. I’ve spent more time in cities, mainly Tallahassee and New Orleans, than I have cycling. Frankly, I’ve enjoyed being in town more than I have cycling. The question is is that because I’ve cycled so little, i.e., the disjointedness of the trip, or is it because I just don’t really feel like cycling? And do I not feel like cycling because I have this deadline for the Australia trip that I don’t even want to go on, or do I just want to travel differently? Like via motorcycle, which I continue to think about. It seems to me that all these questions and considerations are tied in such a knot that one can’t find the cause of it all (and so never the answer), or that they’re all simultaneously causes and effects, and so intertwined with each other that they can not be separated. It is a fine day though, regarding weather, but I wish there wasn’t such an abundance of gusting winds—leavings from the rainstorm that blew in last night, I suppose, all upset for being left alone, and so thrashing about in their anger and frustration.

My next stop, briefly, is New Iberia, where the Shadows on the Teche, a 19th century home that has a special appeal for me, is located. I’m curious about it because Henry Miller visited there on his cross-country journey, which he recounts in his book The Air-Conditioned Nightmare. There are Warmshowers folks in town, so a possibility of staying with some people in a cozy home before my next and final stop in Houston. From Houston I’ll be taking a sleeper train to Los Angeles. I’m most excited about spending two or three days in Houston exploring, and then traveling in fairly luxurious style to L.A. over a period 36 hours, leaving Houston on the fourteenth at seven pm and arriving in L.A. at five am.

[Later that night]
Not the best day. Not the worst day. Just a much much much… much much much… MUCH too windy day. That together with leaving so late meant covering only fifty miles. On the other hand I have a great camping spot in the area of a boat launch. Wonder if anyone’ll be here early tomorrow morning. No matter. It’s nice here, and lit up and surveilled for my safety. The only company I have is the noise of passing cars and the neighbor’s air conditioner, the few mosquitoes outside my tent, and a backhoe which is propping up my bicycle. I would expect frogs, so close I am to a bayou, but nothing. Perhaps they’ve all been eaten.

So, as I said, today was rough. Clear blue sky and cool temps, but I couldn’t stop myself from cursing myself, Australia, and the wind. THE DAMNABLE WIND! AND DAMNABLE DEADLINES! And my foolish self. Foolish for being a fool, and foolish too for getting so worked up about all this. Well, in less than a week I’ll be in Houston, then it’s only a couple more days by train to L.A., then the flight to Perth. In the meantime New Orleans was great and I’m so grateful to Nico for giving me his apartment while he was away. Not sure what I would have done otherwise (probably left sooner). But New Orleans! It’s stunningly beautiful, even if most of the buildings are half-decrepit and rotting, molding, and falling apart from the constant damp and humidity and mild to hot year-round temperatures, and many people can’t afford to fix their dingy hovels, or some people just don’t care. Crazy too that one could see on a single block two magnificent specimens of Greek Revival architecture, one building being immaculate with fresh coats of paint gleaming in the sun, and a verdant, manicured lawn; and the other green with algae, lichen, moss, the concrete chipped, pillars discolored, lawn in disarray, basically looking like it’s been neglected for half a century. The food can be wonderful too, if one goes to the right places. I saw many lines of people waiting to get into certain tourist traps in the French Quarter. There are of course many excellent restaurants nestled in there; you just have to know where to go. Like anywhere else I suppose.

Version 0.13


What a day! What a day!

Well, no, actually. It wasn’t that interesting at all. Not at all so interesting as “what a day” would imply, nor was it so interesting that an exclamation point be required at the end of that phrase. It was pretty easy and basic which, sometimes, isn’t a bad thing. It was a sentence ended with a period. No more and no less.

Happily I am writing in my journal rather than dictating into a microphone. I found the pen I thought I had lost while breaking my tent down this morning. Still don’t know where it was hiding.

I cycled from Dauphin Island to Ocean Springs today. Ocean Springs is in Mississippi. My Alabama photo section for this trip is going to be a bit thin. But I’m renting a car and driving to New Orleans thanks to the weather which has largely been frustrating my attempt to enjoy this bicycle journey and seems to want to make my life miserable (with a good deal of success), so I suspect, based on renting a car, that the Mississippi section will be even smaller still.

I’m camped at a grounds that is part of the National Seashore, therefore it is under federal jurisdiction, but because the government is shutdown there is no one working here, meaning there is no one to charge me the fee to camp, but also coincidentally not anyone here to tell me I can’t camp (because it’s closed to the public). It’s a very nice circumstance to find myself in, especially considering I’m not availing myself of any of their amenities and will only be here maybe sixteen hours. The downside to this, the camping, is that the rain forecasted for the next week begins tonight. I’m under a tree, so afforded some protection, but even still I don’t know that I will sleep well (rain on a tent is noisy). And I’ll have to break camp then bike to the car rental in the rain tomorrow. A sad affair not worth dwelling on.

The one point of interest for the day was running into another cycle-tourist headed in the opposite direction. He had a deep tan and deep creases in his tanned face from spending loads of time outside beneath the sun, and a longish pepper-grey braided beard. I thought he might be more at home in black leather chaps riding a Harley than a bicycle. His name was Joseph, John, James… something with a “J”, and he was stupendously loaded down with luggage, AND pulling a trailer, within which, seated like a queen, was his dog. I can’t imagine the speeds he must average. One’s speed is meaningless of course to the person whose speed holds no meaning, but me, I don’t think I could travel like that (though, to be fair, I’ve looked at a couple bikes with the capacity to hold some extreme amounts of food and water for potentially slower and more remote bike trips). Anyway, we had a short chat while simultaneously shooing away a male dog who seemed very curious and perhaps quite taken by the lady in the trailer. I eventually got him to run off by tossing a rock in his direction, no doubt a common tactic used before judging by his reaction. Was better than listening to J. shout at him every time he wandered too close, while also threatening to pepper spray him. We parted ways after a short bit of where-ya-goin’, where-ya-come-from, etc. He’s very nearly finished his third trip on the Southern Tier. I can’t for the life of me imagine why anyone would want to travel the same route across the same country three times, but good on him I guess. Sure beats sitting on one’s ass watching the world spin by.

Version 0.11

I arrived in Pensacola earlier today.


A steady-ish fifteen miles per hour headwind accompanied on occasion by gusts that were much higher than that. This got me to thinking about, and I mean really properly thinking about, why wind from any direction (excepting that from behind) on a bicycle is the bane, the adversary, the nemesis that it is. And I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not so much just the obvious one, that it slows you down, but that it’s impact, that is the actual physical force of the wind, is of a feeling akin to getting punched by a gloved fist in the gut, like getting smashed in the face with a dense, heavy pillow, like having a bed sheet thrown over you while cycling in a wind tunnel. It hits you, it pulls at you, it pushes you with fiendish delight, and as a cyclist you have no defense. So, it is the physical force of the wind that is so demoralizing, not merely the fact that one moves at slower speed. And when it comes to crossing bridges that realization can become terrifying, particularly those with limited shoulders, because the wind can and does move you. Assuredly one of the last ways I would like to die is by being pushed by a gust of wind into a speeding semi. Naturally then my last real obstacle was a bridge, with little shoulder, from Gulf Breeze (funny name that) to Pensacola. This was a nightmarish death tunnel what with the wind and the cars and the semis barreling along the highway beside me. At the end of all this though, I was greeted by Jeb, the Creative Director at First United Methodist Church, where I would be staying, and who himself had done some bicycle touring in the past, and has plans for touring in the future, and organized and setup the WarmShowers account. It was a greeting I was only too happy to receive.

I’ve managed to find at least one great place for food in town: End of the Line Cafe, a vegan joint serving coffee, beer, assorted other drinks, and great food. I’m heading to a whiskey bar later for a drink. Need to find a proper pen instead of this silver marker I’m writing with. I’m not at all certain what possessed me to bring it, but it’s coming in handy right now.

Cities, though! They’re always undermining my resolve to be frugal. You only live once, most people say. And in this case it’s highly unlikely I’ll be back to the places I’m passing through, excellent food or not. Excellent food can be found nearly anywhere, especially if one knows how to cook. And that’s one thing I miss a lot—having a stove, a little good cooking oil, a frying pan, and some vegetables to go with the rice I cook on nights that I camp. But anyway, I guess my excuse is that I’m traveling through these cities so I should be enjoying them.

Version 0.10

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.

Version 0.09

Camped out at Forgotten Coast Visitor’s Center on the “Big Bend Scenic Byway Coastal Trail.” I always wait too long to start looking for a suitable place to pitch a tent. Sometimes the thing materializes quickly and easily, though. Of course at other times, like this one, it’s a struggle and takes some doing to discover.

Wanted to camp on the beach tonight, but the beach is only yards off the highway and so was extremely noisy. Too, because it wasn’t terribly broad either, I was concerned about the tide coming in. Continuing on I swung into a huge K-12 school complex but I was seen scouting things out and grew nervous and didn’t want to have to explain myself. I was surprised because it was 6:30 and damn well dark enough that people were driving with lights on. Did not expect to see cars and a bus driving up the long, winding drive from the highway. The place was enclosed by a fence too. That played into the idea of outsiders not belonging. Like sneaking into a gated community where all the fancy-pants live away from the dirt and deprivation of the world of regular folks. I probably should not have let it bother me, but if I had got halfway into setting up camp or making dinner then run off the property I would have been none too pleased

It’s impossible to wildcamp because Florida is a jungle, and all the vegetation seems to have thorns or sharp edges or woody stems or grows so thickly that a machete would be required to clear a space for a tent. The forests beneath the canopy are just a tangle of vines, shrubs and other plants; and fields leave one extremely visible, and are the homes of stiff, tall-growing grasses and sharp viny plants. Lucky I am to have stumbled upon this place then. I remember my first night in Arkansas crossing the Mississippi river in the dark, sadly missing what was a stunning sunset. The first building I came to, if memory serves, was the welcome center, and so I camped there around back on the manicured lawn. It was already closed, as this one is, and I didn’t think I needed to fear discovery. It was of course quite a bit larger as it was a state welcome center and not just a regional one. So, my personal opinion is that visitors centers make pretty good places to camp. I tend to not bother with being too inconspicuous because I tend to think being upfront and honest about what you’re doing, especially as a bicycle traveller is a good way of going about things, and most people don’t seem to care if you tell them you’re just camping overnight and moving on the next morning. The place was closed well before I arrived anyway, and they reopen at nine tomorrow morning, so the risk of discovery, if there is a risk, is slim, and if they want to kick me out in the morning, if I’m not already gone, well, I’ll be in the process of leaving anyway.

Today has been a long, excruciating day. Eighty miles of cycling, the first forty of which went by quite smoothly, the latter forty not so much. Legs are feeling pretty wrecked.

Version 0.07

Tallahassee, Florida. The first days of sunshine I’ve had since the day I left Jacksonville. It’s a relief for sure, even if I don’t feel like I’m getting much rest being here. I suffered a flat rolling into the city, about seven miles from downtown. The end result was near to a couple hours of pushing my bike and finally getting a ride from a Warmshowers host with whom I am staying tonight, the fifth of December.

The following day was spent making phone calls to various bike shops asking about tubes before I found one who didn’t have what I was looking for, but promised what he did have would work with my particular wheel size. So far, so good. However, on installing the tube I discovered that my very expensive pocket pump no longer pumps. That is to say it is now an expensive, useless piece of garbage. Good for shoving up someone’s ass, to be sure…. Well, an email’s just been sent, so I should be able to get it warranty replaced. The question is then, when and where.

I’ve met some fabulous people and eaten at some excellent places since being in town though—sunny weather, sunny people?—one of whom is an ex-pro cyclist with the features of a bird of prey, an attitude to match, and a razor-sharp focus who runs a 501(c)(3) called The Bicycle House. The premise behind it is to get transportation (bicycles) to the poor, homeless, poverty-stricken of Tallahassee, and then to provide a space with tools, parts and the like to service their bikes and to educate them so that they can diagnose and service their own bikes when a problem arises. The second aim of the organization is to create a sort of club house atmosphere in order to bring together the disparate members of the community around a common thread—that being that bicycles are the best form of transportation—in order to create a unity, and to bridge the divide between the poor and the not-poor.

Running any kind of non-profit is a difficult and at times thankless job, particularly when those people, the haves, mainly see their bike as a means of recreation because they own a car, and less as a utilitarian tool, that is a mode of transportation, a way for a person to support his/herself, and possibly a family, at a job across town while not bleeding out money in the form of a car payment, gas, insurance, and repairs for what would most likely be a junker. The entire enterprise is a tricky affair, even disregarding attempting to bring together these people for whom a bicycle is seen in such different lights.

He’s currently moving into a new warehouse in the same industrial park as the current one, and I’ve given him a bit of a hand. Hundreds of bicycles in different states of disrepair piled into a U-Haul and driven thirty yards to the new building, unloaded, and the process repeated. Add to that the piles of wheels and sundry other items and it becomes a seemingly never-ending task—Sisyphus pushing the boulder up the hill. But he’s motivated and determined, of that there is no doubt, so I’m confident that he’ll achieve his goal and get the place open again. What he really lacks is hands to regularly contribute to speed the whole process.

If Tally lacks in one thing, it is a great cafe serving great coffee. But it does have one man, Journeyman Coffee, doing good stuff—Coffee on the Porch, as it’s called—even if that good stuff is primarily at his house and lacks a regular schedule and is pretty much comprised of a group of only six or so individuals. I was in contact with Jason for some time via Instagram, so when he notified me that he would be hosting that event the Saturday I was in town, I knew I had to go. And was I ever glad I did because as it turns out my new pump took much much longer than I anticipated to arrive.

That Saturday rolled around, and I had just spent my first of two nights in a pretty crummy hostel located on the west end of FSU, after spending my first four nights in Tally with a few different, great, Warmshowers hosts. Coffee on the Porch was only to last a few hours as it’s more of a coffee tasting and round table discussion and, as I mentioned, takes place at his house. Not at all a proper business venture. Just a casual thing that is donations-based and really just for fun and the mutual sharing of a passion Well, anyway, I arrived about halfway through and missed a few coffees, but got there in time for a bombshell of an experimental coffee that had been harvested, natural processed, roasted, then re-fermented in a Russian imperial stout with raspberries for four months before being dried again and finally roasted. Unreal! Crazy banana and berry flavors, and a sort of funkiness (in a good way) that I couldn’t place that was reminiscent of alcohol and the sort of earthiness one tastes in a wet-hulled Sumatran coffee. It was GREAT. And this experience wasn’t even the best part of the coffee tasting. I made a new friend there. We ended up talking bikes, bike parts, bike-packing, and coffee for a while, then arranged a meet-up at Ology, a brewery in the area for later that evening. This was where I met his girlfriend, now also a good friend, and my guess would be that with her consent I was invited to stay at their place. This ended up being a serendipitous piece of luck (or fate) partly because a friendship was born, but also because it took over a week for my pump to arrive, and so I was spared the fate of having to decide between buying a cheap pump and going on my way, or spending more money staying at the filthy hostel, OR potentially bouncing around between different Warmshowers hosts. I certainly spent more money staying in Tally longer, but it was well worth it, and would still have been had it been necessary that I stay longer still. As it was it was a rather sad departure, but I left with a confidence that we’d get together again somewhere, sometime.

Version 0.05

“Rolling” Into Tallahassee

Should I apologize to myself or forgive myself for my incompetence this day? This I am thinking as I have an imaginary conversation with Scot, my Warmshowers host for tonight. I am imagining him picking me up as I’m walking into downtown Tallahassee pushing my bike with a flat tire.*

So I’m walking into town pushing my bike imagining this conversation we’re going to have because he’s going to call me to find out where I am because I’m taking so long, and I’m going to tell him that I couldn’t Uber to the bike shop because no Ubers had space for my bike and bags, nevermind the fact that I haven’t bothered to signal an Uber because how should I know if my bike will fit or not and are there consequences for this if the bike does not fit (like do I get charged something for wasting this person’s time), therefor I wasn’t able to make it to the bike shop before it closed so I just continued walking to his place and then he will find me somewhere along the way and pick me up. Or I’ll just arrive really late and be like “hi, I’m here,” and laugh and the whole thing will just be stupid because IT IS.

Tallahassee is very hilly, and I’m trying to ride my bike on the downhills in the grass. I’m tired of it though because I’m on my bike for a solid ten seconds (maybe) then I’m hopping not entirely gracefully (not that there is anything graceful about half riding a bike with a flat tire in the grass plot between the curb and the sidewalk) off because the grass is interrupted by a concrete driveway, then I proceed to hop back on, then off again…. It’s very tiresome after a few times, and honestly hard to determine if it’s even that much more efficient (it is slightly, but not so much so that it’s worth the effort, especially after fifty miles of cycling on a loaded bike).

*why do I have a flat tire? Simple. I’m running tubeless and, thinking this would be sufficient, (it was for over 600 miles back home) failed to bring a spare just-in-case tube with me. Well, the sealant didn’t work this time, I don’t think. I am now uncertain about this because after I did procure a tube I found to my astonishment that my very expensive, and relatively new, pump would not pump up the tube. So who knows. If the pump had worked properly I may have been able to pump the tire back up.

Version 0.04

I’ve taken refuge tonight at the Unity House Bed & Breakfast, an unassuming, nineteenth century house located on a side street in downtown Madison. I was soaked again earlier today just after I had finished my lunch break of an hour and a half. It only rained for twenty or thirty minutes, but my stubbornness and consistent feelings of resignation at being soaked prevented me from moving off the road and finding some sort of shelter beneath a tree that would have availed me of being drenched, and even though upon arriving in Madison I was not as wet as I had been, the weather service is calling for storms tonight and I’m simply not keen on trying to sleep through that in my tent just to save some cash and then have to put on cold, wet clothes the next morning.

I was, as usual, in agonies over making a decision because of the high cost of accommodation so early on in the trip (paid lodging for three of four nights so far), but once the decision was made and I was firmly inside the bed and breakfast, with my bicycle rolled into a corner and my bags strewn in a semblance of organization around it, and receiving the grand tour of the place, I was near to ecstasy. To have made a decision! What a triumph! What a weight lifted from my shoulders! The hell with the money. I can earn more later, doing something, anything if I have to, but for now to be reclining in a stuffed chair in a warm room with food in my belly (which I cooked on my campstove in the bathroom of my bedroom), and to know that the money is spent and there’s no possible way to get it back, I am CONTENT, like a fat dog on the hearth of a lighted fireplace.

My room exudes coziness. The queen-size bed is nearly chest-high so that I nearly have to climb into it, and thrusts itself well into the center of the room. The thick memory-foam mattress is piled high with numerous pillows, There are two tables, each with a lamp, on either side of the bed, and an armoire against the wall opposite. Near to the bed is the rather large, comfortable chair I am lounging in, my feet resting on a sort of attached ottoman. There is a flatscreen tv which I will not use on a table against the wall opposite me. The closet is filled with women’s clothing. The floor hardwood stained dark, and a soft light effuses the room through the tall windows draped with lace curtains. In the bathroom my wet clothes are spread about various fixtures, hanging from hooks, etc., drying. All is peace.

Not all was peace today, though. In some places along the way I wondered if peace ever came. Not long after leaving Lake City I passed a Native American church: Broken Lands Native American church to be exact. What peace may be found there? Certainly none in the name. Is it found in the two half-built teepees on the property? Mere skeletons with no flesh, no skin, just a pile of lumber leaning against each other in the shape of a cone, as if by doing so they might manage to stay upright, and lashed together at the top. If there was any peace there it would not stay for long. Perhaps there was peace in the two crumbling, dilapidated hovels that I suppose served as the church proper for whoever worshipped there, but the doors were left swinging ajar, and windows open. Some perhaps shattered. But, too, there appeared little to keep peace contained within. Could it somehow be captured in the three rundown, decrepit, old cars in the lot, parked between the unfinished teepees and the church? None of those looked as if they might run. It appeared as though someone had parked them there years ago and promptly forgot about them. I just don’t think one could find peace in any of those three cars.

On the other hand there is no physical thing that can be representative of the glory of God. Or I should say all things, all places are representative of the glory of God. They are all the glory of God from the lowliest dung beetle (if one sees the dung beetle as for some reason being lowly, as opposed to quite marvelous and magical), to the noblest of humans, say Thailand’s king, or the queen of England (as though birthright means anything in the grand scheme of it all). That said, one can worship or meditate anywhere and find peace there. Often I think I can find more peace in a fingernail clipping than I might find in one of these ostentatious mega-churches that are popping up all over the place. Costs a lot less to build too. Powder it up. Turn it into a wafer. This is MY body. Go worship in your monolithic church, crosses gilded in gold, and the wine unwatered; or go worship at broken lands, broken dreams, broken hopes, and broken promises; it makes no difference. Go to the swamp. Sit under a tree. Lie in a prairie full of wildflowers. It makes no difference so long as you know peace and you feel peace. What’s important is the you, not the it (the thing), for you become it when you project yourself onto it, whatever it is….

A little bit farther along I espied what appeared to have once been a home beneath a magnificent Live oak with Spanish moss hanging from its branches, surrounded by vegetation, covered in vegetation, looking rather rotten and squalid, but looking magical just the same, covered as it was in moss and lichen and vines, green things growing out of its gutters, and that magnificent Live oak with its limbs spread wide over the hovel as if protecting it or wishing to embrace it. It would make a great place to squat or camp as well hidden as it is, what with the forest grown up all around it. I damn near missed it pedaling along. Had to come to a screeching halt as I just happened to glance over at it beneath the trees.

Later on I passed a manor of sorts. Manor Hill or some such thing on 90. Huge property stuck full of pine trees, beneath the pine trees tarps, beneath the tarps bails of pine needles. I’d never seen such a thing. Will have to research it…. Research done. Easy. Apparently pine needles are bailed (called “pine straw”) and used as mulch.

 A little further along I stopped for lunch in Live Oak, at a panaderia (a Mexican bakery). The young woman, who I took for the proprietor, as it’s called Sandy’s, is maybe in her late 20’s or early 30’s. She seemed excited to see me. I saw this look in her eyes as I walked in and she greeted me from behind the counter while at the same time walking around from behind it of “Oh, this guy doesn’t know what he’s getting himself into here.” Of course I could have, in an alternate universe, spoken Spanish quite well. But of course this is not an alternate universe; it is this one in which I speak very, very little Spanish. She was very helpful in a way that seemed to give her pleasure; I suppose this would be called “hospitality.” There was a warmth in her smile and an engagement with me in describing the menu items that one doesn’t experience often—the delight to delight—partly, I guess, because she was a fluent English speaker (and rightly guessed that I was not a fluent Spanish speaker and so was also likely unfamiliar with the menu) and Sandy’s predominantly serves the Latino population in and around town—though there was an enormously, effusively appreciative white man in his sixties there too, who needed to make a phone call and send some money which she helped with—so I think she WANTS more white people to come in and have a pleasant experience, which as a business owner makes sense because she should want to maintain the profitability of her business. In this case though, I think there was more to her helpfulness than simply the financial aspect. There is also, I assume, the desire to be accepted as a Latino and a Latino-run business in this small American town (thinking of the socio-political climate of the nation today, particularly with Trump in office), and also the desire for her bakery and eatery to serve more than just the Latino population, (because this creates a sort of cultural friction) but to serve a multi-cultural community. Of course in order to do this it takes some courage and curiosity on the part of non-Latinos to bother going in. And if both of these qualifications aren’t meant there exists this subtle tension, which of course is all mental, but just because its mental doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Furthermore, the more one looks at something as a “they” or “them” place and not an “us” place, the greater that tension becomes. This would, I think, be a more prominent issue in a small town rather than a city, not that it doesn’t or can’t exist in cities because it does there too under certain circumstances, but in a small town there’s no hiding it. In a city it can be sort of swept under the rug, so to speak. All of this is a bit of an assertion on my part of course. She didn’t show any preference to me, and she didn’t ignore those (Latinos) already there ahead of me, but she simply saw the need to help someone who perhaps was in need of aid in navigating the menu, for I’m certain there had to have been a look of unfamiliarity on my face.

Anyway, once things were explained to me good and proper, and my order was placed, I found a seat at the bar, and then a man older than her—perhaps her father, or maybe HE was the owner, or maybe even just an employee, and maybe not her father at all—cooked my food, and it was really good, basic Mexican fare: a torta which is basically a griddled Mexican sandwich, and may be filled with a variety of things: meats, eggs, jalapeños, mayonnaise, cheese, pickles, onion, etc. Not something I would ordinarily eat, and certainly not healthy, but I make exceptions when traveling in this fashion sometimes, and to have met those people at that tiny eatery it was a joyous occasion I think, and at the time I also thought it would make for a most excellent cultural exchange, which it did, and so was justifiable. And it was not long, twenty minutes in fact, after I finished my lunch and was on my way again that the rain began again.

But I’m here! In comfort and resignation!, as I wrote earlier. My laptop is resting beside me, and I’m still ensconced in the same cushy chair. I’m watching a short video of a couple who are visiting Martin Heidegger’s cabin in the Black Forest in Germany. They describe a ritual that he would practice regularly each morning upon opening the cabin door and setting foot outside, of collecting water in a white bucket from a nearby trough of a hollowed out log that was fed by a pipe projecting from the hillside. And each morning he would take this bucket of his and collect his water for the day, or morning, or whatever, and this was all part of finding and cultivating a connection with nature, with the land that his cabin was built on and was a part of. 

According to the couple, or the man, Heidegger had a distaste, or disgust, for the Socratic idea of the duality of man, which is the separation of mind and body, that they are not a whole but are distinct and separable. I think more commonly people think of the; at least in a religious sense, which is what I was thinking of while watching this portion of the video (because it seems obvious to me that mind and body are not dualistic); separation of body and spirit. This is generally assumed as true in Western religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I’m for thinking body and spirit are one, though. The body is no different from the spirit; it is the spirit. And now I’m pondering Indra’s Net which, at its simplest, is the Buddhist philosophy of the interconnectedness of all things, the multi-dimensional spiderweb. There is a lecture by Alan Watts, called Buddhism as Dialogue, in which he speaks of Indra’s Net, and there is a line in there, and I quote, “That’s the meaning of Indra’s net. So that, this is called in Zen, to take up a blade of grass and use it as a golden Buddha 16 feet high.” Inside that blade of grass are contained all things, and Heidegger’s bucket it seems to me is a metaphor for this. This connectedness to nature, this mind-body-spirit meld, Indra’s Net, the blade of grass, and the golden Buddha 16 feet high. His white bucket is the blade of grass, it is the golden Buddha. It is perfect.

There is another quotation of Heidegger’s cited in the video that I feel is strongly relevant to me now: “By confronting what is often anxiety producing we gain our freedom from living a life just like everyone else, and our lives become our own.” And so this bike trip is a thing which I think defines me in that manner. It is at times anxiety producing, uncomfortable, not pleasurable, but it is my freedom, and it, among other pursuits, separates me from the herd. But is this important? This idea of Heidegger’s, I mean, not the trip. The trip is obviously of importance. Actually, scratch that. I don’t know that this trip is important at all. But then I’m one to question the importance of all things, of everything. So, should this idea matter? Is the herd inherently bad (not that Heidegger is explicitly implying that)? When one thinks of a herd of animals one thinks of protection and safety in numbers, the preservation of the species, etc. But the term “the herd” used in reference to humans is generally connoted as negative, as a bunch of lemmings walking off a cliff, as self-destructive, as a group of people feeding off each other, being only informed by each other and thus being siloed from other ideas and ways of thinking and so being ill-informed, incompletely informed, or outright misinformed; or essentially acting in the manner of dumb beasts which we are purportedly above (at least in intelligence), forming a circle, some facing inward heads hidden away, some facing outwards teeth bared, ready to lash out with horn or hoof at an offender of “the doctrine.” Yet, can these people be blamed?, especially when one takes into consideration the inbred objective of all animals, humans included, which is the preservation of life (and with that comes the preservation of all things dear to or associated with that person, and thus the group) and the continued reproduction of the species (this is simply the desire for sex, regardless of whether you want to produce a child or not). These people are simply protecting themselves. So you can see why they (the herd) might be looked down on by a more intellectual “elite” who have a greater capability of thinking for themselves (though these types often end up doing the exact same thing as the group they’re looking down on, and rejecting any idea that wasn’t propagated by their own or which threatens their own set of rules and ethics (the irony!). I think the best thing a person can do for himself is to intermingle, to raise herself beyond the fray, to understand both sides, but these people are rare. They’re also often the least judgmental of people because they have no doctrine to defend. Their doctrine is essentially the doctrine of no doctrine, or of everyone’s doctrine, because often multiple groups have valid perspectives and valid points to make (even if one has to dig for them). They’re also usually not so concerned with self-preservation, and as a result they have nothing to lose. This creates a fluidity in their interactions with these various groups and factions that those members of the groups don’t have outside of the group.

Anyway, I’ve written much, and thought deeply about this, and am frankly tired, and what happened to this travel blog? I think it is time to turn in.

To anxiety! To freedom! To the white bucket! To defining one’s own life! Joy to all the world!