Friday, December 10, 2010
Riding through banyan tree tunnel.
At some point later in the day, I got a flat tire on my trailer (one of many, many flat tires to come). As I changed the flat, a jovial old man rode up to us on a folding bike. He stopped in the parking lot to tell us that he is an author, and that his latest work revolved around some touring cyclists. He said that it was a pleasant coincidence that he saw us pedaling down the road. As the old man told us this, a car entered the parking lot, and pulled within a few inches of the old man. The driver proceeded to lay on his horn. The driver's strategy was effective in doing two things: 1) causing the old man to remove himself from the parking lot; 2) demonstrating that Miami drivers are rude. Miami drivers are, without a doubt, the rudest drivers we have come across in the past few months. They honk more than geese, ignore red lights, and have a misanthropic attitude towards everything else on the road. We never intended this blog to be a forum for negativity, so I'll end my description of Miami's roadways.
96 miles later, we were relieved from having to brave Miami traffic. My uncle met us for a beer, and then we piled our stuff inside and on top of his car for a ride to his house. We took two days off in Miami, and spent some great time with my uncle, aunt, and my two little cousins. That Saturday, we had a real breakfast, played the Nintendo Wii, burned some burgers and chorizo on the grill, and had a generally pleasant day. My cousins are learning to play guitar, so we played a couple of songs together. Isabella is going to be the next Eric Clapton!
After a much needed two day break, we hit the road again for our final leg of the trip. We crawled through Miami at a snail's pace because we hit almost every red light Miami had to offer. The stop-and-go feel of the ride was annoying, so we stopped for a lunch break on the beach. The beach was absolutely beautiful: snowy white sand, crystal clear waters, and gentle waves. There weren't many people on the beach, either. The reason for the beach's sparse population became evident a few moments later. Vanessa spotted an older gentleman walking down the beach, displaying himself in stark nudity. A ways further down the beach, a few more entirely naked (and older) beachgoers were laying out. Upon these observations, I concluded that we were walking on a nude beach. We quickly made our exit so as to avoid the remaining nudists and their very unflattering physiques.
Lunch break beach, sans nudity.
I wish we would have seen this sign earlier!
After our inadvertent visit to the nude beach, we looked forward to some 15 miles of bike paths. Unfortunately, Miami failure to properly sign and maintain these paths forced us to ride on the road, and ultimately to find a new route to Florida City. Fortunately, our new route involved some 20 miles of dedicated bike lanes that ran alongside a bus-only road. Unfortunately, the bike paths were littered with broken glass. Unfortunately, a piece of glass ripped through my tire just as the sun was setting, and we had no spare inner tubes. Most fortunately, we were a half mile from a hotel, and only a quarter mile from a bike shop. Fortunately, we would end up sleeping in a warm bed on what became a record breakingly cold night for the Miami area. Talk about luck!
Ed's uncle had some extra Hilton points and generously put us up in the Hilton in Daytona. (Thanks Uncle Chris!) We felt a little out of place walking into their lobby sweaty and smelly in our spandex, but the friendly front desk folks didn't even flinch. The guys outside even offered to valet our bikes! We laughed a little, then took our bikes up the elevator and into the room instead. We may or may not have been seen riding through the hallways! The room was great, and gave us a really nice view of the city as well.
The next couple days we had a change of fate in terms of wind - we actually had a tailwind! A cold front had blown in (yes, we had a few nights into the low 40s, even though we're in south Florida. Come on, weatherman! Help us out here!), and the wind was a great help in getting us through West Palm Beach (the houses there were ridiculous!) into the Miami area, where Ed's uncle, Tio Fede, lives. We met him for a couple of drinks and some delicious food near Fort Lauderdale. We stayed in Miami for a great couple of days - filled with food, beer, music, and video games. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
After spending two months traveling at 15mph, car travel is almost surreal. Bestowed upon us was the power to actually pass other cars, to ignore hills, and to actually enjoy a slight breeze. Cycling forces an acute awareness of traffic, hills, wind, visibility, and debris on the shoulder of the road. As our trip has progressed, the acuity of that awareness has gradually slipped into a subconscious resignation of our powerlessness in the face of those elements. A car removes the need for that subconscious resignation, which leaves a strange void in our daily modus operandi. All philosophical waxing aside, exchanging the bicycle pedal for a gas pedal makes life happen at a faster and more convenient pace. However, I am sure that our dear reader doesn't need to be told that cars are convenient machines. This is just a long winded way of saying that I like driving.
We used the rental car to carry us to the movies, where we vegetated in front of the silver screen for nearly 6 hours. We saw Due Date and The Next Three Days, which were thoroughly entertaining even if they weren't Oscar winners. We emerged from the theater after dark, which would normally be a bad thing on a bike. Don't ride at night, kids. Unlike our bikes, our rental car had some blazing headlights, so night travel was no problem. We cruised to a campsite near Jacksonville Beach, where we were greeted by the sounds of dozens of (possibly drunk) neighbors trying to sing a campfire song.
The next day, the rental car took us to St. Augustine. We spent some time crawling around the oldest city in the U.S. St. Augustine is home to a fort made entirely of coquina shells and populated by men dressed in 17th century costumes, which was, for lack of a better word, pretty cool. The fort has stood in its present condition for more than 400 years, despite periods of inclement weather and mortar shells. After touring the fort, we returned to the campsite and made s'mores (a great recovery food).
Unfortunately, our time with the rental car came to an end. We shared our farewells, parted ways with the rental, and began pedaling once again.
In our next episode, your heroes discover headwind, and land at the Hilton on Daytona Beach! Stay tuned!
Monday, December 6, 2010
We had a great week in Tampa - maybe a little more time than we would have liked to take off - just in the interest of finishing the trip - but it was well-needed rest. We ate tons of food, drank lots of beer, and visited with lots of friends and family. Ed's stepdad promptly enlisted Ed's help in deep-frying 5 turkeys (yes, five!).
We also got to see Ed's sister's new house, complete with a big-screen tv, a kegerator, and a gator in the lake in the back! (it's Florida) No really... they're getting a fence soon. Despite the lack of fence, we discovered that the kitchen works quite well, and stuffed ourselves with a delicious chicken dinner.
We went out the day after Thanksgiving to visit with some family friends and celebrate Ed's passing the bar exam. We went to the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino, and had a few drinks and a delicious dinner at their fancy steakhouse. I had escargot for the first time (yum!) and we were also impressed with the lobster bisque, steak tartare, the lobster mac and cheese, and the long-bone steaks. Tasty!
We headed back to Jacksonville to return the rental, but unfortunately got back about 10 minutes after the rental car place closed for the weekend. We were left with a nice little dilemma - an extra 2 days off and a car at our disposal!
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The remainder of Georgia was flat, isolated, and, I dare say, boring. Desirous of a short, direct route, we rode US 301 for about 150 miles, and the following two pictures encapsulate what we saw during those miles. The reader may decide for themselves the which of the two pictures was most exciting:
We headed back to the house to pick up some nets and bait because Mike wanted to take us crabbing. The blue crabs in Charleston have quite a fondness for chicken necks, so we picked up a few, tied them to a line with a weight, and tossed them into the water at a salt marsh near Mike’s dad’s house. Wait a minute or two, and reel them in slowly, catch them with your net, and you’ve got yourself quite a tasty dinner, my friend! We had a blast pulling in the crabs and trying to net them before they caught wind of our sinister plans. In 3 hours we caught about 15. If I’m ever back in blue crab country, you’ll know where to find me.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Shortly after meeting Mike (see my previous post), we met a nice fellow named Don, a carpenter and the owner of Don’s Cabinet Shop in Conway, SC. He showed us his workshop, his super cool and one of a kind three-wheeled motorcycle, and his bicycle-converted-hand bike. He also pointed us towards a good camp spot in a cemetery behind a local church. It was a nice camp spot, and Mike, ever the Alaskan at heart, decided to sleep under the stars, sans tent. Sounds like a good idea, except when the temperature gets down to a balmy 35 degrees (Fahrenheit) and you wake up to a blanket of frost!
The three of us camped in Francis Marion National Forest about 50-60 miles out of Charleston. Mike was kind enough to share some chocolate and Nutella with us, and definitely inspired us to buy some as soon as possible!
The next morning, we met a nice older couple on our way out of the National Forest - they talked to us about military service, since he had been in the Air Force. Basically, their advice for Ed, a soon-to-be Army lawyer was that the military is what you make of it. If you put a lot in, you’ll get a lot in return. Great advice!
We ran into a couple of trains, and of course Ed got excited. He loves trains. We also ran into a farmer with a huge pig, who seemed to be excited to see us. He waddled over to the fence, grunting and oinking, and looked at us with curious little eyes (the pig, not the farmer). We couldn’t help but laugh.
We headed over to meet Mike’s dad, Mick, who is a caretaker/gardener/jack-of-all-trades at a local Charleston mansion (that old style of architecture that you picture when you think of Southern homes) for a super nice couple, Mr. and Mrs. B. Mick gave us a ride in a car (cars go super fast!) to their house, where we met his wife Shawnee, and had a most excellent dinner of broccoli cheese soup and chicken and some beer. We also got to meet the local wildlife: the dog, the birds, and the crazy neighbors, who materialized out of the woods after an evening deer hunt went stale. Thanks to Mick and Shawnee and Mike for the hospitality; you guys are fantastic!!
Also while in Wilmington, we happened upon the Front Street Brewery, where we had some delicious bratwurst, shrimp and grits, IPA, brown ale, and Baltic porter. Yum! Speaking of good food, we happened upon a BBQ place as we were riding out of Wilmington, and had some delicious fried chicken, hush puppies, and homemade chicken soup. We had a nice quiet ride past Fort Fisher , a civil war era fort that was used to protect blockade runners. Ed and I have both been surprised by the amount of history we’ve run across on this little trip.
We hopped on a short ferry to Southport, NC, a cute little tourist town with a decent amount of traffic around 4pm. We were pedaling furiously away from all the cars when, POP! I got a flat tire. I had actually worn out my back tire completely (always a great feeling!) so we stopped for some quick maintenance.
The next day we made it into South Carolina, where we met a wonderful addition to our little bicycle group. Enter Mike, a fellow touring cyclist (only the third touring cyclist we’ve seen for the past 2000 miles!). Mike is a park ranger in Katmai National Wilderness in Alaska and his bicycle has been all over the country (with him in tow, of course). On this trip, Mike was heading from Pittsburgh, PA to Charleston to have Thanksgiving with his dad. We all decided to ride the next few days together into Charleston. What a great decision!
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Enter: Wilmington, NC.
About 6 months ago, Vanessa and I spent 23 hours in Wilmington for a dear friend’s wedding before I had to get back to Texas to study for the bar exam. 23 hours well spent, because I saw my friend enter the life matrimonial and I also passed the bar. However, 23 hours spent in Wilmington is about a week too short.
Wilmington is a town with moxie, and deserves more than 23 short hours. We also selected the proper weekend for a visit to Wilmington, because the city was hosting an Ironman triathlon the next day. 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike ride, and a full marathon…all in the same day. When the locals spied me and Vanessa clad in bicycles and spandex, they assumed that we were Iron-people about to try an athalon. (Editor‘s note: the author refused to omit this unsuccessful attempt at humor. Our apologies.) Unfortunately, cherished readership, Vanessa and I are not Iron-people. We did, however, meet some Ironman triathlon participants. In a battle of perspective, the Ironmen tried to convince Vanessa and myself that they could never do what we are doing, and Vanessa and myself tried to convince the Ironmen that they were invincible endurance-psychotics. In all seriousness, the Ironman participants are inspirational folks, with mettle made of steel.
Thankfully, Vanessa and I didn’t have a crazy race for which to prepare, so we found a pub/Laundromat where we drank a few beers and made clean clothes. Wilmington was particularly vibrant that night because of the Cucalorus Film Festival, which attracted swarms of “folks interested in film,” otherwise known as hipsters and rich people. The film festival meant that most nightspots would be showing films that night, with a sizeable cover charge. In lieu of crowds and steep covers, your heroes ducked into Fat Tony’s for great all-you-can-stuff-into-your-face pizza and…….drum roll……WEEPING RADISH BEER! Our ride through North Carolina has come full circle! Brian, your beer keeps following us (or maybe we follow it)!
Wilmington, thank your for the clean clothes, the full bellies, and the quenched thirst.
We made (a most excellent) camp at a public beach access, and enjoyed a clear sky on a deserted beach that night. As corny or lame as it may sound, we stared up at the clear sky for a few hours. We didn’t say much to each other, but we didn’t really need to. Oceanfront skylines are talkative, especially with the Milky Way cameos and the Cape Lookout lighthouse blinking miles and miles away. The next morning we had breakfast on the beach, which had come alive with fishermen and seagulls. This is the kind of life that you could get used to.
Get used to it we could not, as the road beckoned. That day we rode long. We passed Camp Lejeune, which boasts probably the highest concentration of badass fighting man-machines per square mile anywhere in the world. Our cycling landscape was populated that day with humvees, armored personnel carriers, and signs warning us of impending military training exercises.
A few miles removed from Camp Lejeune, I began to feel the effects of the (inedible, yet delicious) gas station hot dogs I had wolfed down earlier. As I struggled to mash down on the pedals, and I saw Vanessa pulling further and further ahead of me. I was utterly unable to make up the distance between us. Reasonable mind may differ, but I don’t think I bonked. I attribute my lack of muscular enthusiasm to the “all beef” hot dogs. (Editor’s note: Vanessa also ate a hot dog, and suffered no ill side effects. Ergo, Ed must be some kind of ninny.)
The morning after the long ferry ride, we woke up at dawn to see the sun peeking its head over the Pamlico Sound, which made up the front yard of our campsite that day. Vanessa and I are typically slow risers, but that morning, a gaggle of ducks passed by our tent, which caused Vanessa to open the tent flap so she could greet the gaggle. As Vanessa kibitzed with the ducks, an ornery gander bit her finger. Don’t worry, though, kind reader. The bite was nothing more than a pinch, and didn’t so much as leave a mark.
We then decided to go ride bikes for the rest of the day. The first few hours into the ride off of Cedar Island were rather picturesque. Marshland and reeds went on for miles in every direction--the kind of scenery that makes you feel like you're the only person in the world. Once Wimp and Midge passed us in their truck, we didn’t have a single car’s worth of traffic coming from behind because the ferry had not yet arrived. It was desolate….almost.
The sense of isolation was broken by the sound of jets roaring overhead. Try as we might, we couldn’t see the responsible jets. We almost decided to become confused when a pair of fighter jets screamed overhead. As we would soon learn, isolated marsh is a fantastic place for Marine Corps pilots to practice sky ballet. Alongside the marsh ran a Marine Corps auxiliary landing strip, which provided me and Vanessa some entertainment as we pedaled down the road. The jets would bank and turn and roll in a most cinematic manner, and then provide us with a delayed and deafening audio track. One word encapsulates our fighter jet entertainers: cool.
PRO-TIP: When ogling supersonic fighter jets, keeping your eyes on the road keeps you upright!
As our isolated marsh broke into small towns, we decided to stop at the first coffee opportunity available. The first available coffee opportunity also happened to be the best available coffee opportunity on the eastern seaboard. The Davis Shore Provisions general store served coffee in all varieties, and employs the services of a Most Talented Baker Indeed. Pumpkin whoopee pies. Sourdough cinnamon rolls. Most talented baker? Indeed.
While inside the store, Ian strolls in. Ian, adventurer extraordinaire, had been strolling for quite a while. He was finishing up a hike from the mountains in western North Carolina to the Outer Banks. He had been hiking for a month or two with nothing but his backpack and a friendly disposition. Absent was the distinctive odor of someone who had been hiking for two months! What was supposed to be a quick coffee stop became a story-trading session between hiker and bikers. Another round of whoopee pies, please!