Monthly Archives: November 2009

The end of the odyssey


“Great joy in camp we are in view of the Ocian …”
— Capt. William Clark, Nov. 7, 1805, from the journals of Lewis and Clark

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. — Different time, different coast. But the sentiment is the same.

Dipping the wheels in the Atlantic

After a journey of more than 3,000 miles from San Diego — through deserts, mountains, swamps and a tropical storm — our 12-member bicycle caravan arrived safely in St. Augustine on Saturday to dip our wheels into the Atlantic Ocean.
We rode 11 straight days from Mobile, Ala., where we had spent a rest day waiting for Tropical Storm Ida to pass, to arrive on schedule in St. Augustine to a welcome from family and friends.
To my complete and utter surprise, my wife, Mary Ellen, and two of our sons, Matt from New York and Thomas from Denver, flew to Florida to share the end of our transcontinental journey.
I had planned to head back to Fort Worth on Sunday morning by rental car. But those plans changed with the arrival of my family. So we spent the weekend together celebrating with my fellow riders before we all head in different directions. Some riders headed home on Sunday and others will follow on Monday. A few will continue the journey down the Florida coast.
We had to deliver Matt to the Jacksonville airport on Sunday evening for a flight back to New York. Thomas’ flight home is Monday morning. So we’ll load up a rental car with bike, panniers and luggage and drop him in Jacksonville on Monday before heading west to Fort Worth and then to San Antonio for Thanksgiving.
It’s been quite a ride. I hope to continue this blog in some fashion, including a recounting of some of the things we learned during more than two months crossing America by bicycle. So stay tuned.

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He never even saw the Suwannee


Stephen Foster

Way down upon the Pedee ribber
Far, far away
Dere’s where my heart is turning ebber
Dere’s wha brudders play.

Stephen Foster, 1851

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — That first line of the first verse of the Stephen Foster classic doesn’t sound quite right. The Pedee?
But that was in the first draft of Old Folks at Home as Foster conversed with his brother Morrison while mulling over the lyrics for his new song.
“One day in 1851, Stephen came into my office, on the bank of the Monongahela, Pittsburgh, and said to me, ‘What is a good name of two syllables for a Southern river. I want to use it in this new song of Old Folks at Home,'” Morrison Foster recalled, according to information available at the Suwannee River State Park, our campsite on Tuesday in the final week of our transcontinental bicycle journey.
“I asked him how Yazoo would do. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘that has been used before.’ I then suggested Pedee. ‘Oh, pshaw,’ he replied. ‘I won’t have that.’ I then took down an atlas from the top of my desk and opened the map of the United States. We both looked over it and my finger stopped at the ‘Swannee,’ a little river in Florida emptying into the Gulf of Mexico. ‘That’s it, that’s it exactly,’ exclaimed he, delighted, as he wrote the name down; and the song was finished, commencing, ‘Way Down Upon de Swannee Ribber.’ He left the office, as was his custom, abruptly, without saying another word, and I resumed my work.”
The Suwannee River (Foster misspelled it) flows south from the Okeefenokee Swamp in Georgia to the Gulf of Mexico. Foster never visited the river and had no association with it. But the name fit nicely into the lyrics. After he wrote the song, Foster sold it to famed minstrelman E.P. Christy.

Dining in the dark at Suwannee River State Park

Over the past century and a half, the song “has been been translated into every European language and into many Asian and African tongues,” says the info from the state park. “It has
been sung by millions the world over and has long since passed out of the realm of written song to be incorporated into the body of folk music passed orally from generation to generation.”
In 1935, the Florida Legislature adopted Old Folks at Home as the official state song, replacing replacing Florida, My Florida, which had been the state song since 1913. In 2008, the legislature decided that a revised version of the lyrics be the official version.
And Foster never even saw the Suwannee — or visited Florida.

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Coastin’ to the coast


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Fellow rider and blogger Reg Prentice likened this transcontinental bicycle ride to a ski jump: The hardest, scariest part is at the start, followed by a landing and then a long coast to the bottom of the slope.

Monument to Ray Charles in Greenville, Fla., his hometown

The hardest days for most of us were shortly after leaving San Diego on Sept. 20 as we crossed mountains and deserts in heat over 100 degrees. After Emory Pass in New Mexico — the literal high point of the journey at 8,228 feet — the Davis Mountains in West Texas and the Texas Hill Country, we began a long, more leisurely journey toward the Atlantic Ocean. Now, in northern Florida, barely more than 100 miles to our final destination, St. Augustine, we’re just coastin’ to the coast.
Two more days — Friday and Saturday — and we should arrive at the Atlantic Ocean to dip our front wheels into the surf at Anastasia State Park just east of St. Augustine.
Thursday’s ride of 47.78 miles from a campground near Ichetucknee Springs State Park to Gainesville, the home of the University of Florida, included a major milestone. We’ve now traveled more than 3,000 miles — 3,032.58 by my daily tally.

Around a campfire near Ichetucknee Springs State Park: Kami, Reg, Dave and Jenny

I, for one, am ready for the journey to be over. On Thursday night, we’re in a Days Inn in Gainesville. We have one more night of pitching tents and cooking and dining by the light of our headlamps on Friday at a campsite at East Palatka and then a short ride of only about 38 miles into St. Augustine on Saturday.
Our journey’s-end dinner is scheduled for Saturday night. Then, on Sunday and Monday, people from all over the world who have shared the pleasures and pains of crossing a continent by bicycle all head their separate ways. My post-trip route will take me by rental car home to Fort Worth and then almost immediately to San Antonio for Thanksgiving.

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My rear tire got mugged


WAUKEENAH, Fla. — A milestone: I had my first flat on Monday.
After nearly two months on
the road and more than 2,800 miles of riding since leaving San Diego on Sept. 20, I was the only one in our small bicycle caravan who had not had to change a tire — until Monday.
But I can’t blame my German-made Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires. My rear tire was like an innocent mugging victim. It got stabbed.

Our campsite near Marianna, Fla.

What happened was this: All of the screws that secure my rear rack to my bicycle frame had worked loose because of the jolts and jostles of a transcontinental bicycle journey.
As I was riding along a quiet country road just west of Woodville, I came to a screeching halt.
The rear rack had separated from the brackets that secure it to the frame just behind the seat post. The rack rotated backward on the bottom bolts at the rear axle and dropped the rear panniers to the pavement. They dragged behind the bike like an anchor.
The loose bracket that had held the rack in place behind the seat post dropped down and stabbed the rear tire as it rotated forward. Like a knife, it went right through the layer of rubber that protects against run-of-the-mill punctures: nails, thorns, wire-like pieces of steel from truck tires.
At first, I thought I might be faced with a trip-ending breakdown. But it turned out to be a relatively minor problem. I had to dismount the panniers, resecure the rack and replace one of the flimsier bolts with a good stout one that should hold fast until we get to St. Augustine and the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.
Then, of course, I had to change the tube. The tire has a small stab wound, and the Specialized Airlock tube, with a slimy, self-sealing substance inside, had a slash too large to repair. But I was carrying three spare tubes.
The two Johns in our company came along just after my breakdown and offered help. But the first task was to resecure the rack and that was a one-person job. Just as I was preparing to take off the rear wheel to replace the tube, Kevin (Gerben) came along. He was a big help holding the bike steady as I took off the wheel, changed the tube and put the wheel back.
Once the panniers were remounted and everything else put back into place, the bike and I cruised down the road just fine and finished the 52-mile ride from Midway to a KOA campsite just north of Waukeenah in good time.
I was extremely fortunate that this mishap didn’t occur on a busy road in bad weather. That might have been a real problem.

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A birthday on the road


“Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are a cheese.”
Billie Burke, American actress, 1884-1970

MIDWAY, Fla. — I celebrated my 67th birthday on the road Sunday night — at a Flying J truck stop with 11 of my new best friends. There was chocolate cake, candles, singing of the traditional birthday song and lots of good wishes. It was nice.

Jim with a huge piece of chocolate cake

Mine was the last of four birthday celebrations during our progress by bicycle across the southern tier of the United States — Kami in Phoenix, Gerben (Kevin) in Arrey, N.M., Dolores near Coldspring in East Texas and now mine in the Florida Panhandle just west of Tallahassee.
With Sunday’s ride of 55.39 miles from Marianna, Fla., to Midway, we’ve covered — by my calculations — 2,816.82 miles since we set out from San Diego on Sept. 20. Six more days of riding should take us to St. Augustine, Fla., on Saturday. Then this band of new best friends all go our separate ways.
southern tier routeIn my case, I’m to pick up a rental car in St. Augustine on Monday, Nov. 23, and spend Monday and Tuesday driving more than 1,100 miles back to Fort Worth before heading to San Antonio for Thanksgiving. My journey home by car will pass through some of the same cities we rode through on our eastbound bicycle journey — Tallahassee, Pensacola and Mobile.

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An ever-expanding green monster


“Plants do not have the power of locomotion — except perhaps for kudzu.”
— Anonymous

MIDWAY, Fla. — I guess it seemed like a good idea at the time.
In 1876, a fast-growing vine from Japan made its first appearance in the United States at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, the first official U.S. world’s fair to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The plant, known to botanists as Pueraria lobata and to the rest of us as kudzu, is a climbing, coiling vine native to southern Japan and southeast China. It was promoted at the fair as a forage crop and an ornamental plant.

kudzu-infestation-map

Extent of kudzu infestation

But apparently its promoters didn’t realize that the southeastern United States, with hot, humid summers, frequent rainfall and mild winters with few hard freezes, was perfect for the proliferation of kudzu, which now has infested between 7,700 and 12,000 square miles of the United States.
Our cross-country bicycle route is taking us through kudzu country — from East Texas and now into the Florida Panhandle. So far, we’ve seen only minor growths of kudzu — climbing up light standards or obscuring road signs.
I haven’t traveled much in the Deep South. So the ubiquity of kudzu was a revelation to me when my wife and I drove from Fort Worth several years ago to Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga., via Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The stuff was everywhere, climbing and enveloping utility poles, abandoned houses, junk cars. A structure overtaken by kudzu is reminiscent of a Mayan temple reclaimed by the jungle.
kudzu-envelops-a-house

Kudzu envelopes an abandoned structure

The U.S. Soil Conservation Service — established in 1935 when severe drought was turning the topsoil of the Great Plains to dust and the wind was blowing it hither and yon — encouraged farmers in the southeastern United States to plant kudzu to reduce soil erosion. The practice continued into the early 1950s.
Now kudzu is an ever-expanding green monster that defies eradication.

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Does it get any better?


DE FUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. — Life is good!
A campsite on Juniper Lake just north of De Funiak Springs in the Florida Panhandle. Cold draft beer dispensed from a tap on a lakeside deck at the RV park where we’re staying. A wide, smooth shoulder to ride on during the 60 miles along U.S. 90 from Milton, Fla., to De Funiak Springs. A sunny sky and temperatures in the 60s and 70s. And a tail wind most of the way.
De Funiak Springs signAs the guy says in the beer ad: “It doesn’t get any better than this!”
This transcontinental bicycle adventure is almost at an end. A week from Saturday — Lord willing and creeks don’t rise — our small caravan will roll into St. Augustine at the end of more than 3,000 miles across the southern edge of the United States from San Diego.
The deserts, the mountains, the 100-degree-plus heat seem a lifetime ago as we now focus on the end our our journey and the Thanksgiving holiday.
By my calculations, we’ve now covered just short of 2,700 miles of a trip that should total about 3,200.

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