Day 50(Starke to St. Augustine, FL)–64 miles

June 8, 2011 § 1 Comment


Every journey has an end.
—Seneca(4 BC-65AD)

We are arrived. We are finished. The journey is complete. My thoughts and words seemed clear as I rode this morning; now I find nothing.
The ride was miraculously uneventful; I had visions of one disaster after another today.
We leave early. Joe is concerned that I do not know the first turn, that I do not know where we are going…
In ten miles we pass Camp Blanding; at 20 miles we pass Penney Farms, which has a surprising history.
“In 1926, department store pioneer J. C. Penney founded the community of Penney Farms. He planned to develop an experimental farming village. The State of Florida incorporated the town in 1927. The real estate decline and stock market crash, however, caused Penney to scale back his ambitions to a community for retired ministers in honor of his minister father. Today, the Penney Retirement Community is a 192-acre (0.78 km2) home to Christian laypeople as well as clergy and missionaries.”
At 30 miles we pass through Green Cove Springs and approach our challenge of the day– the Shands Bridge. It is a relic from a bygone era, built in 1963, 34 feet wide and 6,662 feet long. There were plans to replace it in 2004, however….
At 57 miles we are in St. Augustine visiting the Fountain of Youth; I hope the pictures suffice; the $10.00 admission fee would age me, not rejuvenate me.
Next stop, Mission of Nombre de Dios, where the first Catholic mass in the New World was celebrated.
Life, however, is not complete without a visit to a National Park; thus we add the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument to our itinerary. Joe has a lifetime pass; we get in for free. Begun in 1672, it is the oldest masonry fort and the best preserved example of a Spanish colonial fortification in the United States. The Castillo took nearly 25 years to complete, using something called coquina, a composite of tiny shells, stuck together by time and lime. It is extremely resilient; the original walls remain intact.
I had never heard of St. Augustine; how could I have missed this portion of history?
St. Augustine was founded in 1565 by Spanish explorer and admiral Pedro Menéndez de Avilés; it is the oldest continuously occupied European-established city and port in the continental United States.
In 1565, five ships under the command of Pedro Menendez de Aviles, arrived at what is now St. Augustine. For perspective, colonists wouldn’t reach Jamestown for another 42 years and the Pilgrims wouldn’t touch Plymouth Rock for more than a half century!
I remember the Pilgrims; St. Augustine was never mentioned.
We pass the historic lighthouse; Joe’s son has flown out from Chicago to congratulate us on a job well done. He meets us at the hotel on the beach. Life is complete.
What will the next adventure be?
Thank you for caring, for reading about and for supporting the trip.

Day 49(Monday, June 6):Live Oak to Starke, FL–65 miles

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment


All paths are the same: they lead nowhere. However, a path without a heart is never enjoyable. On the other hand, a path with heart is easy-it does not make a warrior work at liking it; it makes for a joyful journey; as long as a man follows it, he is one with it.
-Carlos Castaneda (1931)
Source: The Teachings of Don Juan

There is thunder and lightening outside, but we are settled safely into the Starke Best Western, a sure bet. The Red Roof Inn was closer to the route, but the reviews on Trip Advisor were a deterrent. Next door to us is Powells Dairy Freeze Drive In, established in 1972. After ordering lunch from the service window, as we have no car to park, I ask Crystal, the teenage waitress, what Starke is known for. Her reply, nothing; it’s just here.
Now on to the ride. Routes 90 and 100 far exceeded our expectations: they were both smooth with wide shoulders and minimal traffic. This was great as last night Joe wanted routes changed if I could not guarantee a shoulder; I tried to explain that even much of the ACA route does not have shoulders and that the shoulders vary from county to county–all of this is out of my control. We, after all, are forging our own unknown route. The one sure shoulder, the interstate, does not allow bicycles. He does not seem to understand despite traveling almost 3,000 miles. Oh, well….
The railroad shadows our path for a few miles; seeing it, I know we once again have made a good choice of routes.
We stop in Lake City at the 35 mile mark for fluids; Alka, the owner of the Sunoco Gas Station, refuses to let us pay for our drinks. It is her gift to us. Thus Alka, our Angel of the Day, merits photo status.
I am waiting for the advertised flat, boring Florida to arrive; today was a bit flatter, but there were still plenty of scenic rolling hills to keep those horses happy. I remain surprised at how beautiful the countryside is: conifer forests sparsely interspersed with a small town here and there.
There was only one canine encounter today, a big, black bearlike creature. The black beast came after Joe first; the display was striking enough to cause the semi behind Joe to put its brakes on! I’m up next; the cur lies in wait; I momentarily consider crossing to the other side of the highway. Is my luck finally up? He is huge, but I see a faint tail wag. Is there hope? Yes! He is as tall as my bike, but only makes a half hearted attempt at the big chase. We have been very fortunate on the dog front during this trip. Only one more day of dogs, dirt and drivers!
Now a bit about Starke, our destination for Day 49….
As Crystal forecast, I did not find much; it has a population of 5,500,a nearby prison and Blanding National Guard Armory.
I do have one last tidbit for the film tour….
According to Wikipedia, Starke has also been the site for the following film and TV events:”G.I. Jane, which starred Demi Moore and was filmed east of Starke on the Camp Blanding Joint Training Center; Joel Schumacher’s film Tigerland, starring Colin Farrell; Basic starring Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta; and What’s Love Got to Do with It.
In addition, the Fox Broadcasting Company reality TV show “Boot Camp” was filmed near Starke, as were portions of the BBC mini-series The State Within.”
A forgotten item from yesterday: we crossed the Historic Suwannee River. Again some information per Wikipedia “This river is the subject of the Stephen Foster song “Old Folks at Home”, in which he calls it the Swanee River. Foster had named the Pedee River of South Carolina in his first lyrics. It was called Swanee River because Foster had misspelled the name. Foster never saw the river he made world famous. George Gershwin’s song, made popular by Al Jolson, is also spelled “Swanee”, and boasts that “the folks up North will see me no more when I get to that Swanee shore”. Our history lesson seems never to end.
Tomorrow both the journey and the blog end in St. Augustine, the oldest city in the USA. Tonight we will pack our panniers and prepare to set out in darkness on an unknown path one last time….

One may go a long way after one is tired.
—French Proverb

Day 48(Sunday, June 5):Monticello to Live Oak,FL–64 miles

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

Today we fine tune our departure time; it seems bright outside despite the enveloping darkness.
Monticello turns out to be a Florida Heritage Site; our lodging, an aberration. Besides the historical 1850s Opera House, there is a B&B in an 1872 house that we overlooked. Their claim to fame: Kirstie Alley slept there. It was simply too hot to explore yesterday. Perhaps we can stay there next time if we want a more traditional experience….
Meanwhile, in the hazy half light of early morning, the glass shards littering the shoulder glimmer like discarded diamonds. The weather feels cool; the road is good. Maybe these 60 miles will fly by! I look at my odometer:we are averaging 15 miles an hour. We are flying after all!
Forty miles into the ride, we stop at McDonalds and order a $1.00 refillable drink, to share. What a deal!
The temperatures are expected to reach 100 today; Florida is also in a drought with rainfall 25 inches below normal. The daily weather reports include fire watch warnings. Despite the green everywhere, it is very dry.
We roll a few miles further; Joe stops at a Florida Highway Patrol outpost. He relays how the dump truck tried to run him over two days ago. The result: even without the license plate we can call the FHP to report a reckless driver; they will look for the vehicle of description. Officer Hurst then informs us that six weeks ago a bicyclist was intentionally hit and as a result died a few miles from where we are now. He further states that they will find the culprit from the pieces of the vehicle left at the scene. We thank him for all his information and continue on, sobered by the reality of this ride.
We arrive in Live Oak about noon. I spy a Grocery Store-Carniceria-Tortilleria; it’s a huge place–we should find some fruit here. I go in; Joe attempts conversation with the locals outside. His Spanish has not improved and I don’t hear much English from these locals. There are two motels within 100 feet of the grocery store; both look like reform schools despite one having a cheery name–The Sunshine Inn….
We pass on by regardless of the motel’s perfect location on Highway 90; I promised no repeats of last night’s lodging.
The Best Western is near the Interstate; we ride a few extra miles for the comfort. It looks as if we hit the jackpot: restaurants everywhere and a Walmart across the street. Perhaps Joe may finally drink that glass of Merlot. We check in and ask if the Walmart has wine? Yes! However, this is a dry county; no sales allowed on Sundays. Today is a Sunday. Joe is out of luck. He is resourceful though; he asks the clerk if she has any beer. No, not here. The clerk then asks the housekeeper if there were any leftover cans after checkout today; another negative. She says there were two cans from a couple of days ago, but those too are now gone. It looks like Joe’s beverage of choice will be root beer today.
We watch the French Open Men’s Tennis Final in the cool comfort of an air conditioned room, anticipating dinner tonight–Chinese/Sushi Buffet across the street.
We have 120 more miles to go; one more night on the road…and then it’s back to The Daily Routine.

Day 47(Saturday, June 4):Bristol to Monticello,FL–72 miles

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

We dragged our sorry souls out of their comfortable sleep at 5am; our corresponding bodies very reluctantly followed suit.
Remember this is the Eastern Time Zone, so it is basically 4am!
We are on the road by 5:30 am in absolute darkness. It looks like I will finally get to meet the Crack of Dawn. A rooster crows as if on cue. It is dark out here; I try to concentrate on the small portion of the white road line I see in the narrow reach of my headlight. I feel a tinge of vertigo coming on; it’s like being in a black hole–total disorientation. I am not sure how long I can last in these conditions. I look to the horizon for a glimmer of light, for some small ray of hope.
At 5:55 the light changes; I can finally see nebulous outlines of shapes; that helps a bit. I see the horizon; I am safe.
The next 40 miles pass quietly and uneventfully. Our route on 90: the Florida Big Bend Scenic Byway. We have wide shoulders and cooling shade from the canopy of trees. Life is good. We stop at a gas station for liquids. I see two teenage girls peering out the store window at our bikes. This is how we meet Amanda and Courtney, ages 15 and 14, of Bloxham, Florida. We exchange greetings and some basics about the trip. They look at us in amazement and say, “We haven’t ever met anyone who has bicycled across the United States.”
Our response, “Neither had we, until we went on this trip”. I ask if they have ever been to California, to Texas? A chorus of no! I make one last try, Louisiana?? Another no! We say our good-byes; they then get into a pickup truck with their dad and we roll on. I am impressed they were even up and moving around; it’s only 7:45 in the morning, and it’s a Saturday.
We make a straight shot through Tallahassee, Florida’s capitol, taking the scenic route across the Florida State University campus.
It’s getting warm out; we stop at McDonalds for their dollar menu; a Waffle House was not immediately available.
Twenty more miles to go; they turn out to be 20 hot, hilly and humid miles, despite the beautiful scenery surrounding us.
We arrive ahead of the ever more threatening thunder and lightening in Monticello at the Brahman Inn and Restaurant; the latter appears to have been closed for at least a decade or more. As for the Inn, well there is a big “Open” sign on the billboard. We find our room, complete with an assortment of large roach-like insects, and clean up our dusty, dirty selves. At least the place seems quiet. Joe inspects the beds for critters; looks good. I find a great little restaurant, Sandwiches and Such that serves dinners(oak roasted chicken, filet mignon, salmon) in the evenings, two blocks away. We are set, though Joe looks a little depressed about the whole No Tell Motel thing. I call and check on tomorrow night’s lodging: a solid, safe Best Western chain choice, in an attempt to liven the mood. I am not sure it helped much; this is definitely the sorriest lodging of the trip. Oh well; I figure it is part of the adventure. Things could be much worse. Joe goes to sleep as if to either forget or avoid his surroundings; amongst other things, he is lamenting the dearth of TV channels. Meanwhile I am busy planning the next few days….
Another day safely ridden; three more to go until we reach the Almighty Atlantic Ocean!

Day 46(Friday, June 3):Ebro to Bristol, FL–58 miles

June 6, 2011 § Leave a comment

The weather outside is frightful; inside it’s just delightful…
We did pay a visit to the Ebro Racetrack last night, but alas no dogs; Thursday is the dogs’ day of rest. Our dinner was a surprisingly good meal, both in taste and eye appeal. There was a $3,000 buy in poker match going on, but it wasn’t in the cards for us tonight.
We awake to a relatively cool, foggy morning. It is almost chilly to our body systems which are now accustomed to the sweltering heat. The CoastalCoast2Coast is over; we are now Landlubbers amid conifer forests. All is well until Mile 30 when we lose our safety shoulder; we have no choice but to ride the white line with the semis. It is 8am; their numbers seem to suddenly increase.
One passes so close to first me and then to Joe, that I see Joe’s bike angle back and forth like a sail in the wind. The semis wheels are within two feet of the white line; there is no oncoming traffic; there is no reason for the truck to behave like this to us. Joe later states, “He tried to hit me!”. More semis pass me; this time 4 in a row; I grit my teeth and concentrate on the white line, on moving forward. My neck and shoulders ache from the stress of this stretch of Highway 20; how much more? We do not stop; there is no opportunity. After 15 miles we reach Clarksville; a woman comes up to us. Her name is Maryann; she passed us on the last curve and “near had a heart attack, along with the man in the car behind me”. She further states with the taxes they pay, Florida could at least give the bicyclists a shoulder. But wait, she’s not done; Maryann adamantly states she’s had enough of this road and will be writing a letter to Tallahassee to tell those legislators so. For this Maryann joins the Tour Photo Gallery as our Person of the Day!
After a quick drink of soda, we set out again; thankfully our shoulder is back! We have breakfast or lunch, depending on which time zone we choose; we are on the border between the Central and Eastern Time Zones. Joe has a Southern Plate: fried chicken, three sides, a hush puppy and dessert. We are in the South after all and we have just ridden almost 60 miles in record high heat–it is now 95 outside. Joe deserves this meal!
Three more miles to go,two of them over a huge bridge span across the Apalachicola River, and we are at our new home: the refreshingly named Snowbird Motel. We have to feel cooler here!
I write this as we watch the French Open Semifinal–Federer vs. Djokovic. It’s a great match and a welcome respite from the heat and the road. The current outside temp is 100 degrees(feels like 103 per the Weather Channel). An expedition across the street for water and tomorrow’s breakfast may be too difficult….

Day 45(Thursday, June 2):Destin to Ebro, FL–47 miles

June 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

My life is like a stroll on the beach….as near to the edge as I can go.  –Thoreau                 

Hello from Ebro!
Population 250; one motel; one BP service station complete with Subway and one dog track.  The local cafe is closed, but there is a “restaurant” at the nearby(behind the motel)dog track. The dog races supposedly start at seven tonight; I have never been to the racetrack, but there’s a first time for almost everything….
I write this as I wait for our laundry; Betty, the more than kind owner of the Ebro Motel, offered to wash our grimy biking apparel. Thanks very much, Betty!  We will remember you with smiles in our hearts for days to come!
Now about our “workday”…..
It did not seem possible yesterday’s temperature of 95 degrees(feels like 105 according to the Weather Channel) could be surpassed.   That is extremely hot weather, even hotter to be out riding bicycles in….
However, I woke a 3am and checked the temps– it was still 86 degrees in Destin, and to make it seem worse it “felt like 90”. Today will be a scorcher.  I next checked our day’s destination, Ebro, and the temps there dropped down to a chilly 75 overnight.  We will have to go buy winter clothing!
We are up bright and early to beat both the traffic and the heat. I would say on to bigger and better things, but it looks as if we are trying the opposite logic today as we gravitate toward tiny Ebro.
The road is great; we have a bicycle lane with smooth pavement the whole route.  Our mileage is low; there is nothing after Ebro for thirty miles, so we will end our day before heat exhaustion sets in.   We stop at the cafe in Bruce; Joe gets his eggs and grits, albeit not at a Waffle House. After the meal he sits a spell on the porch, chatting with the local males. The good part of the morning; one of them asked me if I was a born again Christian, as I was always smiling!  A compliment.    We meet Steve, a  road cyclist; his mileage for the day, 100.
Ahead of us are two identically clad bicyclists stopped on the bridge; thus we meet Anna and Kevin, on a tandem. They are nine days out, traveling from Savannah to Seattle over a  four month time span.   Their distinctive jerseys are emblazoned both with their logo and with  their route.  Seeing other touring bicyclists is always a pleasant surprise; we expected to see no one on this alternate route.
I am mapping out the last remaining days. After 2,500 miles Joe has finally asked for his own paper map; he refused the extra map I  had in Louisiana and will not use the utilitarian iPhone map application, which if he chose to,  is always at his fingertips.  Hopefully he will now always know where he is and not need to ask “How much longer?” anymore.   I can now ask the same question of him every 5 miles!
Unknowingly this trip has been a compilation of the Sixties TV shows I watched in my childhood. Growing up in Alaska, I had no “real” United States to compare it to.  My frame of reference: books and the emerging television. This bike tour started in California; every Sunday night at seven my siblings and I sat in front of the only television in the house, black and white of course,  my parents on the couch, the three of us cross-legged on the floor, and watched “The Wonderful World of Disney”. The opening credits are forever ingrained in my psyche: Sleeping Beauty Castle and Tinkerbelle’s magic fairy dust. It was the land where all your dreams came true; thoughts of California have the same connotation.  We moved by bike on to Arizona and Texas; my thoughts turned to Cooky on “Wagon Train” and Rowdy(a very young Clint Eastwood) of “Rawhide”.  Next stop–New Mexico: land of UFOs and aliens– Billy Mumy on “Lost in Space” anyone?  Or Ray Walston and Bill Bixby on “My Favorite Martian”?Next we are in the South, near the land of “The Andy Griffith Show” and Mayberry RFD.  The ever present sheriffs, troopers and police cars cruising the tree lined  Main Street  in every town seem directly out of a Hollywood script. And lastly, let’s not forget Florida with “Flipper”, where America’s fascination with dolphins and matters maritime began.
It is with a sense of melancholy that I ride and plan these last few days.  This has been the adventure of a lifetime. Where does one go from here?  Maybe I will find some answers at the Fountain of Youth in St. Augustine.

Day 44(Wednesday, June 1):Pensacola to Destin–56 miles

June 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Greetings from Florida’s Emerald Coast!
Today finds us in Destin, “The World’s Luckiest Fishing Village”. As we rode in, we were surrounded by sparkling turquoise green waters and brilliant snow white sands; it looked like a scene from a postcard.
We are staying in a Motel 6 and using our saved extra pennies for the fine waterfront restaurant dining at Cafe Marina across the street. There are also hotels on that side of the street, but in a “slightly” higher price level than our basic Motel 6, discounted even more for seniors.
How we arrived in Destin is an altogether different saga. Yesterday we found ourselves at a bifurcation in our route. Do we take the tried and true ACA route, Highway 90, which shadows and meanders along I-10 or make our own hopefully straighter, southern route?
I was convinced the southern route was the best, until the iPhone and I googled the Ebro Motel, our only choice for lodging in a 30 mile radius and “Ebro Motel Shooting” pops up; suddenly the northern ACA route looks a lot better. Yes, it looks really good. Too bad I am also a compulsive planner; I decide to reread the ACA riding condition notes and to my horror find the following: “Pensacola Scenic Hwy has no shoulders…4 lane US 90 has moderate, but somewhat deteriorating shoulders, with intermittent sand and gravel….Ride cautiously between Mossy Head and DeFuniak Springs; large trucks and fast traffic can make this part of the route challenging”. I awake Joe from a sound sleep ; what should we do? I google Hwy 20, part of the alternate route, to try and find info on the shoulders there. No luck.
At 5am I am still undecided; the routes are the same for the first 6 miles; if the 5 mile long bridge to Pensacola Beach looks bike friendly–we will take it.
Decision made; we have a bike lane up to and onto the bridge. Fort Walton Beach, here we come. I see a 30 foot tall neon sign proclaiming “Turn Right Pensacola Beach-Scenic Drive Along Gulf of Mexico-World’s Whitest Beaches-Motels-Restaurants”. This sounds promising…..Soon we find ourselves on Santa Rosa Island, a thin strip of the whitest dunes I have ever seen. After we pass the chaotic tourism of Pensacola Beach, we enter the Gulf Islands National Seashore; there are migratory bird nesting areas everywhere. Joe is the unfortunate recipient of two territorial dive-bombing birds. They make screeching craws at me; otherwise I am ignored. We also encounter a minimum of 20 road cyclists– the most we have seen in 2,400 miles.
It is unmercifully hot and humid: the temp reads 95; supposedly it feels like 105 degrees. We are drenched in sweat. We arrive in Fort Walton Beach. We have ridden on 40 miles of bicycle lanes, a gift. Joe asks for a Waffle House, water and AC, but he still wants to ride further.
Thus we are in Destin, home to Britney Spears, Bette Midler, Emeril LaGasse amongst others. Our home is air-conditioned Room #140 in the local Motel 6.
Good Night.

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    We are two intrepid travelers: Joe Harrison, age 73, of Apple River, Illinois and Susan Fenn, age 55, of Anchorage, Alaska. We plan on riding from San Diego, CA on the Pacific Ocean to St. Augustine, FL on the Atlantic Ocean, a distance of 3,160 miles, through extremes of both terrain and temperature. The purpose of the ride is to raise money for cancer research. Joe’s late wife and Susan’s mother both died from breast cancer. Please follow the daily updates on this newest adventure. Your generous support would be appreciated.

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