FLA/ME Posts Consolidated

I have consolidated the posts relating to the FLA/ME ride below, put them into sequential order for ease of reading, and added a few observations that I had forgotten to include in the original posts.

3/3/21 New Adventures?

I am hoping to embark on another great adventure in six or seven weeks, and perhaps a very different one a month after that.

The first plan is to ride my bicycle from Key West, FLA to Portland, ME. The FLA/ME ride (how could I not so name it?) will only happen if I, any fellow riders who decide to join me and the sag wagon driver have all been vaccinated. I have an appointment for a first shot toward the end of March, so I’m somewhat optimistic on that score. Others, I don’t know about.

It almost goes without saying that because of all the restrictions on how we’ve been living our lives over the last year, this adventure should have the feeling of a prison break.

The ride would be organized much like the 39-day, 3,249-mile ride from Los Angeles, CA to Old Lyme, CT that I did in 2016. This year’s journey would be something like 2,000 miles, depending on the exact route chosen, and much flatter; it would take three to four weeks, depending on lots of unpredictable factors.

Because of uncertainties about whether the ride will actually be doable and exactly when it would begin, I have not yet given serious effort to finding a driver for the sag wagon. At present, I’m looking at a possible April 19th departure from Key West, which means a driver would probably leave New York in a van with bicycles and luggage in back on the 17th. Those dates might get pushed back a week or two to accommodate vaccination schedules or other riders’ needs.

I asked some friends if they would like to join me for all or part of the ride and received several expressions of interest. My guess is that as with the cross-country ride, few or none will be able to take the time to do the whole thing, but several will join for a few days each. Most likely, more than several will join one or more of the segments between NY and ME – home territory for most of my friends.

The sag driver’s job is multifaceted. Be near enough to the riders to help if there’s trouble; help plan routes; help with general logistics – e.g., with making hotel and dinner reservations; have fun. I will pay all the driver’s costs and a modest stipend, but the only real reason that somebody should want to do this is if he or she thinks it would be fun.

Needless to say, I will be looking for somebody who I think has a very high sense of personal responsibility. If you know of anybody who is available for and possibly interested, I suggest you have him or her read my posts about the cross-country ride, here, to get a sense of how the adventure is likely to play out. If anybody is still interested after reading that, please have him or her reach out to me through info@civilhorizon.com.

Assuming that the ride happens, I will post daily notes on it. Entirely apart from whatever enjoyment you may have gotten out of reading about the cross-country ride, I’m sure that if I hadn’t written those posts, I would have forgotten way too many wonderful details of that adventure already. I cherish those memories, refreshed or otherwise, and I have no reason not to believe that this one, too, will be fit for savoring long afterwards.

***

Separately, you may be interested to learn that I am very seriously considering going back to work on a full-time basis. Indeed, it’s because I may do so that I’ve moved up the timing of the possible FLA/ME ride from its originally-conceived mid-May starting date. I have been considering starting a new business for a long time, and the pandemic’s more-or-less official end seems like the logical go/no go date. If I decide it’s a go, my ride posts are very likely to be short because after the days’ rides I’ll need to be talking to businesspeople and reading legal documents. Perhaps time pressure will force me to be less verbose than I was last time…

4/7/21 Anticipatory Pleasures:

I have been training like a madman for the first adventure I announced in my last post – the planned bicycle ride that I have been variously calling the FLA/ME ride – since it is expected to take me from Florida’s southern tip to Portland, Maine – and the Prison Breakout Ride, since I hope it will mark the end of my – and our collective – periods of virtual confinement. 

I have become optimistic that the ride will actually happen. I am scheduled to get my second vaccination shot in a couple of days, have found a driver for the sag wagon and, perhaps most important, (after this morning’s ride with my friend Dom) I feel fit enough to attempt it. Barring any hitches James (the sag driver) and I will set out from Key West early on the morning of April 24th, perhaps accompanied by a cycling friend or two. What route we will follow after the first day’s ride through the keys, on which there’s only one possible route, isn’t known; neither do I know how long the trip will take. 

As my excitement about this adventure has mounted, I’ve decided to try to explain why I will be undertaking it. After all, on first consideration such a journey might well seem like a ludicrous waste of time, energy and money, as well as an inconvenience and a source of worry to the Beloved Spouse – because, among other things, it is all that.

When I finished the ride from Los Angeles, CA to Old Lyme, CT five years ago I was convinced that while it had been a great experience, I would never do such a thing again. Been there, done that, as they say; don’t need to do it again. 

I couldn’t have known how almost impossibly free it would someday seem that I had been while on that trip. I had been able to explore vast parts of the country, both expecting and receiving warm welcomes from strangers along the way. The subsequent pandemic-era lockdowns and travel restrictions made the idea of an open-ended journey across many states, choosing my route as I went, seem like a lost dream. Over the last year, I have had an almost desperate need to retrieve that freedom – and the sense that this is one great and largely welcoming country, notwithstanding its diverse subcultures; now I expect to re-find both. 

This will be a very different trip. Instead of making my own discoveries of the southwest, the Rockies and our nation’s seemingly endless farm country, I will be traveling the east coast, with which I have been broadly familiar all my life. The only major town that I expect to pass through that I haven’t already visited is Savannah; I hope to take a rest day there to explore it. 

While the journey won’t offer spectacular unfamiliar landscapes, it will give me something I have greater need of now: chances to spend time with a whole series of very dear friends who I haven’t been able to see for quite a while. After the very first day’s ride I expect to see three such friends – a couple of former neighbors and a business friend – all of whom I’ve been close to for well over thirty years. Two nights later, if the riding goes as planned, I’ll see a guy who was a business mentor and friend even longer ago. In Charleston, I’ll see a woman who has been a close friend since college, in DC another friend of thirty years. In Philadelphia I assume we’ll see James’s mom and dad – the latter being my brother-in-law – and northeast from there we’ll see friends and family all along the way. What a great way to reconnect with people I love.

The subtlest source of joy on a trip like this, though, is how its myriad uncertainties will force me – and other participants – to live more fully in the moment than at almost any other time. The physical nature of the tasks at hand can be overwhelming: a distance cyclist must constantly be assessing not only how he or she is feeling at the moment, but whether the combination of pace, food and fluid intake will mean that the effort can be sustained as hoped. And as a matter of safety he or she must be radically alive to his or her surroundings at all times.

What’s more, each day must be planned one day at a time. On this morning’s ride, Dom said that if he were to organize such a trip, he would meticulously plan the whole thing months in advance. He’s wrong about that: it can’t be done. Weather has its constantly changing say in the matter, roads may be out or hotels unexpectedly closed, and exhaustion that demands a rest day, or just a shorter day, is unpredictable. What starts as a comprehensive plan will surely be foiled, throwing off schedules and necessitating innumerable adjustments. Better by far to plan tonight for tomorrow and leave the rest to fate.

There is a strange pleasure in these uncertainties. Being forced to make and remake decisions that affect our bodies right now – and to trade the siren call of the Internet’s ersatz reality for actual sounds of the road – where hearing cars and trucks is of literally vital importance – has a concreteness that stands in welcome contrast to the blur that can characterize our daily lives. These will be days many of which, for better or worse, I will likely remember for the rest of my life.

All these pleasures will come at a cost, of course. I will miss the Beloved Spouse, our children, grandchildren, the friends I see near home and my puppy, the irrepressible Sundae. I will miss this year’s most exciting days in our garden. I will temporarily (mostly) set aside the exciting new business venture I’m pursuing. My real life will be on hold. 

So be it; I believe that life will be sweeter with the renewed sense of personal freedom that is the overarching reason for the journey.

4/24-25/21 Days One and Two ( both posts written after the ride to Miami):

Yesterday’s Ride: Key West to Key Largo

By way of background: Tom and I became friends while riding together as part of a larger group every dry weekday morning in the warmer months of the mid nineties; he and his wife Sera now run a big company they founded together in the late nineties and mostly live in Key Largo. Tom hasn’t ridden much in recent decades, so I was astonished that he would undertake the first day’s very long ride.

Ken is a very regular cycling companion of mine; he joined me for the last three days of my cross-country ride five years ago and for the last couple of days of my kayaking adventure on the Connecticut River. I expect he’ll accompany me for the first week or ten days of this journey. He’s a strong rider.

James is a favorite nephew; he also was the sag driver on the kayaking trip, so he had already gotten to know Ken.

After arriving at our hotel on Key West late Friday afternoon via the very fully loaded bike van, driven by James, the four of us agreed to meet later to briefly explore Key West by walking to and from dinner. The island is an interesting, elegant and distinctly inelegant place. Fabulous restaurants are sandwiched between strip joints, tourist shops and dilapidated homes. Public art – not the sort paid for by some government program, but spontaneous, amateur art – decorates many buildings. Chickens roam the streets, dodging tourists on the sidewalks. Hotels, including the one we stayed in, are enclaves of both wanton behavior and quiet elegance. A drunk, not bad looking 51 year-old (she volunteered her age) from Maine saw that I was wearing a Maine logo baseball cap, demanded that we chat and unmistakably tried to hit on me just before my friends and I went for our explorational walk to the restaurant – a truly startling experience. OTOH, when the fire alarm went off at 3 AM, and I vacated my room to wait for the all-clear, a perfectly lovely – in both appearance and manners – couple vacated the room next to mine and we spoke politely while we waited for blessed silence.

The riding begins:

Ken, Tom and me at the start

Tom, Ken and I set out by bicycle from Key West yesterday (i.e., Saturday) at 7:00 AM, accompanied by James in the sag wagon. Our destination was the home belonging to Tom and Sera on Key Largo, about 114 miles ENE from Key West. The hope was that we would arrive in time for the mid afternoon massages that Sera had arranged for us.

The wind was severely adverse – in our faces, blowing at 17 mph – for the first 70 or 80 miles, so the going was very slow. Even so, Tom, Ken and I enjoyed ourselves if not with every pedal stroke, the great majority of the time – at least until exhaustion began to set in at around hour five. We had set a relaxed pace. The heat – a steady 85 degrees – and thick humidity would surely have hurt us if, had there been no adverse wind, we had been inclined to push ourselves for speed.

Much of the ride was quite beautiful. The keys, if you’ve never been there, are low-lying, tropical islands set out in a string, connected by dozens of bridges, some of them quite long. We got into the van to cross the longest of these – seven miles in length – (thus shortening our total day one route to 107 miles) because the combination of lots of traffic and a narrow breakdown lane had looked kinda scary to me on Friday’s southbound drive. This is how the bridge looked from the van:

The seven mile bridge

I ended up feeling good about the decision to take the van over the long bridge on yesterday’s ride because not five minutes after we got back on our bikes one of my tires flatted for no reason I could see; changing a tire in the narrow breakdown lane without support from James (who couldn’t have stopped safely) would have been really frightening.

By hour seven our direction had turned northward and the wind more southerly so an enemy became a friend. We managed to finish at a bit faster pace than we had been riding when fresh.

We limped into Tom and Sera’s house too late for the hoped-for massages, but feeling very good about having all completed the ride in good order – particularly Tom, for whom this was the first 100 mile plus ride in 20 years.

Yours Truly, Tom, Ken and James on arrival yesterday

Sera greeted us with great warmth and snapped the above picture. She also gave us a magnificent dinner party, to which she invited her and Tom’s next door neighbor (a venture investor) and his wife, and an old friend of mine – also a neighbor of theirs, whom they hadn’t previously known – who was recently the governor of a large state and had lots of fun stories about famous people. The dinner’s convivial atmosphere was quite useful in keeping us riders from falling asleep.

Stats and Map: Garmin Connect

Today’s Ride, Key Largo to Miami:

Today’s ride was completely different. Ken and I were alone on our bikes – Tom had never planned on accompanying us for more than a day – and the wind was our friend. It was also a vastly shorter ride – 59 miles to downtown Miami. When designing the first few days’ ride plans, I had decided on Miami as the day two destination, knowing that day one would be very long and that day three should bring us to the home of another friend – Jacques, who was my boss 35 years ago – in Stuart, roughly 100 miles up the road from Miami. Plus, James had never seen Miami, so stopping here would give him a chance to look around a bit this afternoon and tonight.

Without the wind’s resistance, today’s ride was vastly faster than yesterday’s, at least until the final ten mile leg through busy streets. It was unbearably hot, though, 93 degrees according to my Garmin, so arriving at an air conditioned hotel came none too soon for my tastes.

Stats and map: Garmin Connect

Miami seems like it’s on a different planet from the keys. It’s new and shiny, with spectacular skyscrapers and breathtaking views – a decidedly happening place. We’re also staying at a fancy hotel, the W; most of the hotels we’ll find in on this journey will be more along the lines of Motel Six – totally fine, but probably not full of young couples that look like models. I like the downtown Miami scene, but we won’t be here long – another early departure is planned for tomorrow morning so I can have more time on arrival after another long ride to catch up with my old mentor on arrival in Stuart.

P.S. In my haste to get off a quick note about the first two rides of this adventure, I was seriously remiss in not mentioning today’s real highlight: lunch with Sandy, Ken’s delightful, Miami-based mother-in-law. I think this picture says it all:

Day Three, Miami to Stuart, FLA:

Monday’s route took Ken, James and me 117 miles from downtown Miami to the southern tip of Hutchinson Island in Stuart, Florida. For the most part, we were on Route A1A, the north/south residential road that leads through the barrier islands that line South Florida’s eastern coast and that parallels the more commercial, mainland-based Route One. Before I describe the ride, a few comments about Route One:

If we had so chosen, virtually the entire journey to Portland, Maine could have been on that road; I could’ve told an observer at the start that we were just going to go up the road a piece (meaning: about 2,000 miles), then a couple of blocks to the right.

We aren’t slavishly following Route One, though. In many places, it’s too busy for cycling safety and too commercial to be beautiful. What’s more, it doesn’t lead to Tom and Sera’s house on Key Largo or to Jacques’ house, where we are now, on Hutchinson Island, to Savannah, which I’m looking forward to seeing for the first time or to my friend Elizabeth’s home in Charleston.

In short, we are often taking different roads for safety, beauty, interest and friendships. Even so, Route One could be described as this adventure’s truest path, the road that we’ll see at least occasionally, and sometimes travel on for considerable distances, all the way to Maine. To me, there’s something slightly comforting about that; for one thing, Route One’s innumerable service establishments mean that if we’re on or near it, revivifying snacks and drinks are sure to be nearby. For another, its historic status and continuity of broadly commercial character speak to an underlying unity all along the otherwise culturally diverse way.

Yesterday, the road we mostly followed had none of Route One’s commercial character. A1A between Miami and Stuart passes by and through some of this land’s wealthiest and most visually appealing communities.

As we approached Fort Lauderdale I had a way-too-close encounter with a moving bus; a reminder that cycling can be a very dangerous sport.

The first new and delightful sight (well, new to me) was Fort Lauderdale’s waterfront: the road was wide and safe, there were newish apartment buildings and hotels to our left, and to our right a broad promenade with lots of happy-looking people; beyond them, a strip of grass and trees, then an amazing beach; the ocean beyond could as well have been the Med, viewed from Nice.

Later, we rode by the in-your-face waterfront personal palaces of Palm Beach and the entrances to Mar-a-Lago and The Breakers, then past the more understated but no less elegant, immaculately gardened homes of Jupiter Island. All along the way, the Atlantic was just to our right (or under the bridges we crossed), sparkling. We arrived at my friend Jacques’ beautiful home on Hutchinson Island, cooled off, cleaned up, then were taken on a tour of the harbor in our host’s boat, concluding a daylong tour of what surely must be one of the prettiest and most prosperous 117 mile stretches in America.

Did I mention that the ride was 117 miles, and that we faced a direct headwind (though less harsh than the one we had faced on Day One)? Notwithstanding the day’s visual delights, five hours into the ride I was exhausted and getting cranky; we then stopped for a slice of pizza – in my case two slices – and a Coke. The new food in the system performed a near-instant miracle, giving me the strength to not only finish, but do so with some elan. Arriving in Stuart:

It was a great, exhausting day. We’re planning a shorter ride for today, and hoping for a better wind.

P.S. The day’s stats and map:
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6677807607

Day Four, Stuart to Melbourne, FLA:

The following picture was taken of Jacques – an old friend and our host last night – just before we both set out on this morning’s ride. Jacques accompanied me on the bike for eight solid miles – pretty darn snappily for a guy who’s a competitive sailor, not a bike rider, before turning back toward his home. It had been great fun to spend time with him. How often do you get a chance to hang out with somebody who was your boss 35 years ago and lives far away? Not often.

At 77.6 miles, today’s ride was both much shorter – 78 miles versus yesterday’s 117 – and much faster paced. The riding was happy and unforced, the road – A1A again – straight, safe and flat. After Ken joined me at mile 25 (he had had to deal with gear trouble first thing, and found, remarkably, that the new owner of the high-end bike shop in Stuart was … the same guy who had built the bike and sold it to him while living in the northeast) we spun along, taking turns at the front and talking amiably.

Hutchinson and North Hutchinson Islands, where A1A took us, are continuations of the barrier island chain that gave us Palm Beach and Jupiter Island yesterday. For much of the distance north/south, these very narrow islands have only one road, A1A, heading straight up the middle, with fabulous ocean-side residences on the right (for us) and fewer homes on the left, Indian River side or, in places, long stretches of woods. With the exception of a few towns, of which Palm Beach is the largest, there are very few cross streets on these islands, which, along with the near-universal presence of a bike lane on A1A, makes riding there feel exceptionally safe.

The pavement on A1A is also very nearly perfect – smooth and pothole-free. One doesn’t tend to notice pavement quality much while riding in a car, except when hitting a really bad pothole, but on a bicycle smooth pavement often makes all the difference between a comfortable ride and saddle sores and aching shoulders.

Add the final factors of weather that was not too hot, a wind that was neutral-to-helpful and that we knew the ride would be comparatively short, and you can appreciate why our moods were lighthearted and the riding great fun.

I have only one culturally observational comment to add to the effort I made above to describe the joy of riding in perfect conditions.

The America that we rode past for most of yesterday and today is representative of a slice of society that is as narrow as the barrier islands we were on. Until roughly ten miles from today’s finish, the residences we saw were overwhelmingly opulent and plainly built for those who have considerable means; in the last few miles, more seemed to be for the merely prosperous. These islands are beautiful (seasonal) playgrounds for the well to do.

At lunchtime today, Ken and I had a funny experience that Illustrates my point nicely. As we rolled into Vero Beach, looking for a place to stop for a sandwich or whatever, we came to a rare cross-street. On it there were five or six buildings with street-level retail, so we naturally assumed we would find some food offerings.

Nope. We saw a Chase Bank and a Merrill Lynch office in the same building, a Wells Fargo, a Marine Bank & Trust, a Becker Trading Company, a Northern Trust, one or two other financial firms I don’t remember and some real estate businesses. Convenient food? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Tomorrow’s ride will bring us back to a more representative slice of our wonderful country.

P.S. today’s stats and map: Garmin Connect

Day Five, Melbourne to Daytona, FLA:

Last night at dinner, just after I had published the account of Day Four, Ken, James and I had a conversation that determined today’s route and set a pattern for future course decisions. The process of choosing routes and daily destinations is deceptively complex; I think we finally got it right.

As background, understand that determinative factors, like weather, exhaustion and closed roads, can and do change daily. Last night, we were weighing whether we can get to Charleston before Ken has to return to New York. We had already decided that we should have a rest and exploration day in Savannah, which none of us has seen, and at 330 miles (the shortest, ugliest route to Savannah from where we were) that ciity looked at least three very hard days away, or maybe four easier days in which we could take prettier, non-distance-optimized routes totaling, say, 350 miles.

Then there was the question of whether the ride from Savannah to Charleston would take one day or two; Garmin Select was suggesting a 146 mile route, just beyond what we would try to do in a day. Problem was, four days to Savannah, a rest day then two more to Charleston added up to one more day than Ken is confident that he has – and he wants to see Charleston.

As further background, we have come to distrust bicycle mapping programs. On my cross country ride five years ago, Map My Ride and the Google Maps bicycle function mislead me regularly, telling me to take roads that didn’t exist or had been closed for construction or were private and impassible. I had assumed that the algorithms had gotten much better since then, but on Day Two Garmin Connect told us to take a nonexistent road and we had a similar problem with Ride with GPS on Day Three.

Such mapping problems leave us stranded en route, searching for another, always longer, way to get where we’re going. Thus a 110 mile ride can easily turn into a 120 mile one (which is why the idea of doing 330 miles to Savannah in three days was concerning – that distance would already be a stretch, and any detours would make it a killer).

In the event, James saved us one day (and set an important precedent) by finding a website that has rider reviews of point to point rides, including one praising a 106 mile, regularly ridden route from Savannah to Charleston. This find convinced us that covering that distance in a day would be no big deal after our expected rest day in Savannah – unless we get terrible weather – which in turn allowed us to happily plan a much prettier and less risky 4 day ride to Savannah, while giving Ken high confidence of making it to Charleston. The key is that our level of confidence in a prose review of a particular route, written by a rider, is much higher than it is in a purely map/algorithm-generated route.

Consequently, we decided to take four days to get to Savannah, with somewhat shorter and vastly prettier daily routes than would have been the case if we had had to do it in three days.

Ken then improved the process in a different way: he used Strava’s heat maps of cyclists’ favorite routes between Melbourne and Daytona Beach, where we are now, to lay out a stunningly pretty 96 mile ride, then downloaded turn by turn directions of that route into his on-bicycle Garmin device so we could follow the route while rolling. Pretty nifty.

If you were to check out the map and data from today’s ride https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6689193798
you would find first that we followed a route that was often within a block of Route One, but rarely on it. The roads we followed were generally residential on one side, with the wide Indian River on the other. The homes were not as opulent as the ones we had passed in previous days, but they were very nice. Interestingly, an astonishing number of them still proudly display Trump signs (including some of the ‘don’t blame me, I voted for Trump’ variety) or Trump flags, some for 2024. In any event, the riding on those roads was delicious: good pavement, no cross streets, very little traffic and lovely vistas.

The best part of the ride was a 30 mile off-road trail on what had once been a railroad right of way through a swampy nature preserve.

Ken and I (James was in the van on a real road) hoped to see some gators along the side of the path, but didn’t. We did have a nice experience that could have been exactly the sort of route disaster I described above, though: 11 miles into the trail, it was closed for construction, theoretically requiring us to reverse course. There were eight or ten construction guys digging a trench from swamp to swamp across the path with heavy equipment, and they completely blocked the way. They very kindly, if gruffly, moved their equipment to let us through on my promise that they would never see us again. The ride through the forest/swamp/fields was glorious.

The stats would also tell you that we were very, very fast today, with an average speed of 17mph in spite of many slowdowns through towns, at lights, etc. The real rolling speed must have been 19 or 20.

No, we haven’t suddenly gotten much stronger. We had a screaming tail wind all day long. It was very pleasant, but we’d be fools to expect that luck to be repeated any time soon.

Day Six, Daytona to Mayport, FLA:

What, if anything, about today’s 90 mile ride from Daytona to Mayport, Florida, just east of Jacksonville, will I remember years from now?

It’s not likely to be that with the help of another strong tailwind Ken and I rode even faster than we had yesterday, fun though that was. (Before moving on from that bit of information, though, allow me to make the observation that distance bicycle riding is as much about the preservation of energy – husbanding it, managing it carefully, saving it for later – as it is about the exertion of strength. Riding fast, even if only on a relative basis, hour after hour, is not about brute strength; it involves a lot of finesse, especially when done in cooperation with another rider, whose body will naturally have its own rhythms and stresses, no doubt different from your own. It’s exhilarating, even somewhat memorable, when it all comes together, irrespective of the posted speed.)

Maybe I’ll remember some scenes from the quietly beautiful park Ken and I passed through this morning, like this one:

Or maybe when we stopped by the gate honoring Ponce de Leon’s landing in his search for the Fountain of Youth:

Or the opposite: when I got news at lunch that an old friend is very ill.

I may remember with an amused smile that today’s Strava heat-map-generated route led us almost inexplicably from the main road through some twists and turns into a housing development before taking us back to the main road. We later concluded that either a hyperactive cyclist lives there or, more likely, it’s the meeting place for local group rides.

Most likely, the settled areas we passed through today, other than St Augustine’s historic center and Atlantic Beach’s charming downtown, will blur with all the other waterfront homes and hotels we’ve been seeing over the last three or four days. We’ve also seen an awful lot of ocean and a near-endless stream of people who look happy to be spending their time in a resort community that extends for hundreds of miles north/south, but is mostly only a few hundred yards wide.

I’ll probably remember that after the ride, while dining outside at a restaurant near Mayport, we chatted with an elderly couple from the Midwest who had settled in Florida years ago. When we told them about the journey we’re on, the very nice little old lady politely inquired whether we are packing heat. Ken said no, and asked why she asked; she responded flatly that anything can happen.

And finally, perhaps I’ll remember my daylong anticipation of dramatic change tomorrow, when we will pass from Resortland, populated by (prosperous) Americans from everywhere and anywhere into what I expect will be a starkly different cultural environment: the rural South. In a very real sense, we have now spent six days heading north toward the South. I’m looking forward to getting a better sense of the place.

We’ll begin the day with a quick ferry ride across Chicopit Bay – the body of water that leads westward from the Atlantic toward Jacksonville – then head north, eventually into Georgia around mid day. This route – heading all the way north on Florida’s barrier islands, then taking the ferry – was Ken’s elegant solution to the unattractive alternative prospect of fighting our way through Jacksonville, now a bustling metropolis.

In summary: except for the bad news about my friend’s health, another lovely day, another part of an adventure that on the whole, if not in all its parts, is feeling entirely memorable. I am truly blessed.

Today’s stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6694950484

Day Seven, Mayport, FLA to Brunswick, GA:

As expected, Ken, James and I left Florida’s long string of narrow, resort-oriented barrier islands by ferry first thing this morning and quickly found ourselves in a very different, and radically more rural, world.

Our first task north of Chicopit Bay was to ride around a gigantic series of marshes and small rivers flowing toward Amelia Island and the sea beyond. Thus Ken and I found ourselves heading west at first, into a stiff wind. After a handful of miles, we turned northward and crossed a big bridge – one of many on this journey. I took a picture of Ken with the backdrop of the marshes from the top to give you some sense of their scale:

If anything, the above image gives the misimpression that the marshlands that makeup most of Florida’s northeastern tip, are smaller than they are. For roughly 25 miles we passed around, by and through a network of nature preserves and undeveloped – and no doubt undevelopable – marshes, woods and rivers. We saw next to no residences in this area – there were only a few industrial facilities dotting the road.

Gradually, the landscape took on a recognizably Southern Rural feel. As we progressed toward and into Georgia, at about the day’s mile 40, still facing a wind that seemed to come more from the north as we turned that way, we found ourselves passing through miles and miles of woods, consisting of pine, oak and (in sharp contrast with Florida’s barrier islands, on which palm trees are everywhere) no palm trees, punctuated every so often by small groupings of tired-looking service businesses.

We saw a lot more churches, almost all of them Baptist, than we had seen in Resortland, where the places of worship had not only been fewer, but much more diverse.

To our surprise, when we stopped for lunch in Woodbine, Georgia, among a strip of more than slightly down at the heels businesses we found a strikingly attractive and immaculately maintained little restaurant. A prosperous-looking businessman-type, wearing a suit and tie sat at a table on one side of ours, a very friendly hayseed-type, with whom we spoke, on the other. It was a delightful lunch.

The state road we were on for nearly 50 miles – Route 17 – had next to no shoulder but felt safe anyway because the road surface was good and traffic, though fast-moving, was light. Our route became much dicier, and frankly unpleasant, when we turned onto Route 330 for the five mile run into Brunswick, where we are now. Not only was traffic heavy and fast, the shoulder was only 8 or 10 inches wide, with a rumble strip consisting of (uncomfortable!) pavement cuts under the white line. No fun. The only consolation beside our nearness to the night’s hotel was that the wind had finally turned favorable, lightening our loads.

Arriving after a wind-slowed, hard 83 miles (with a rolling average speed of over 17 mph) at the decidedly spartan hotel where we are staying in Brunswick, was delightful mostly because it meant we got to get off our bikes. After seven days of riding, we’re tired.

By now you may wonder why I regularly write about the wind or, especially, our speed. Allow me to explain why these things matter: I’ve gone on at some length about how much fun we’re having – and I’ve meant every word of it. There’s another side to all this though, one we are less apt to talk (or write) about: these rides often hurt like Hell.

Entirely apart from the fitness of our cycling muscles to do what we demand of them, we get sore, really sore, in all kinds of ways. Maybe our shoulders and neck ache; maybe our feet are on fire; maybe our soft undersides – well, you get the idea. All of these problems get much worse the longer we force our bodies to do the same things that irritated them in the first place. I, for one, have been fairly consistently finding that my secondary pains start about four hours into a hard ride, then get worse fast. Thus, if I have the physical strength and wisdom regarding pace that will allow me to finish the ride sooner rather than later, I desperately want to do that. To point out the obvious, a fixed number of miles goes by a whole lot more quickly at 17 mph or 18 mph than they do at 14 mph. That’s why I care about speed.

For dinner, on the local knowledge recommendation of Ken’s brother in law Curtis, we took the van over to nearby St Simon’s Island, another beautiful waterfront resort community, where we ate a great meal at the Southern Soul Smokehouse. St Simon’s residential and commercial opulence, much like that of Florida’s barrier islands, seemed a little jarring in contrast with the deeply rural feel of most of the day’s sights.

Tomorrow we will ride roughly 85 miles to Savannah, then take Sunday off. I’m looking forward to exploring that city on foot.

P.S.: Today’s Stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6700051330

Day Eight, Brunswick to Savannah, GA:

There were two surprises today, one good, one not. My former longtime business partner had an excellent rule about surprises: ‘bad news first’, so even though the unfortunate surprise happened just after we finished our ride, I’ll lead with it:

The valet at our hotel in Savannah, unmindful of the height of our sag-wagon-with-a-Thule-box-on-top, drove into a too-low entryway to the hotel garage, tearing the luggage box off. Far from tragic, of course, but it will prove to be darned inconvenient if we don’t find a way to re-secure the box before we leave town early Monday morning. We’ll see.

The ride gave us the happier surprise. We had scoped out an 84 mile route from Brunswick to Savannah, and covered the first ten miles or so, wending our ways slowly out of town and gradually picking up steam after we rejoined Route 17, which again became pleasantly rural. Then, once Ken and I had ridden over yet another bridge crossing one of the innumerable rivers and estuaries of the region and depositing us into the town of Darien, he noticed a large group of cyclists – as we later learned, called the Golden Isles Chain Gang – gathering in a lot just to our right.

Naturally, we joined the ride they were just getting ready to start. At the inconsequential expense of adding five miles to the day’s total, their route took us to much more pleasant places than we would have seen from Route 17 and, more important, gave us a chance to meet a wonderfully welcoming group of local riders. We all had a grand old time getting to know a little bit about each other’s lives and riding habits while riding side by side.

I spent time riding and talking with a retired vascular surgeon, a retired lawyer/accountant and a guy who (l think) worked for NBC; thereafter I spoke at some length about our shared view that the nation is nowhere near as hatefully divided along political lines as the media routinely portray it as being with the fellow pictured below who, I would guess, is a pastor. When, after the sprint and photo op described below, Ken and I were about to leave the group, ‘Coach’, the presumed pastor, gave us a big blessing with a nod to Ken’s Judaism.

I even met a man – Jon – who spends his summers in the region of Maine to which I’m heading. I expect we’ll cross paths again.

Immediately before the gathering for the group picture, we had had a big sprint: Ken had gone off the front, leading the Golden Isles group’s strongest riders at 22 or 23 mph for three or four miles. When the little lead group got to be a few hundred yards ahead of me, seeing what Ken was doing, I chased them down at 26-27 mph. It was hard, and took a good while, but satisfying once done. After the sprint, we stopped, waited for the others then set up this photo:

Our chance meeting with the Golden Isles boys – and girl – had been an unexpected delight, to say nothing of being a cherished opportunity for Ken and me to talk to other cyclists than each other.

Alone again and back on Route 17, Ken and I worked our ways unmemorably toward an equally forgettable lunch stop in Midway. Well, forgettable but for our first sighting of a gas station brand neither of us had ever heard of:

After lunch, we had the least pleasant hour and a half or so of the trip so far. Route 17 suddenly turned very ugly for cyclists: heavy, fast car and truck traffic just to our left and a vanishingly narrow shoulder, with the usual breakdown lane detritus under our wheels. We just put down our heads and got through this section as quickly as we could. Come to think of it, this ugly portion of the ride could be described as having been the day’s third surprise, but I take the view that on rides in unfamiliar territory it’s inappropriate to describe road conditions – exceptionally good or exceptionally bad – as genuine surprises. After all, it’s the unexpected that makes these trips adventures.

When we finally reached the outskirts of Savannah, Ken and I turned into a subdivision and found ourselves on a delightfully pretty and traffic-free road, the opposite of where we had been moments before. It was a nice way to end the day’s ride, no doubt lowering our blood pressures considerably – until we arrived at the hotel, only to find James distressed over the valet’s mistake.

Rest day tomorrow.

P.S.: today’s stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6706169457

P.P.S. : As I wrote this post, James and the hotel valet managed to jury rig a temporary fix on the Thule box; they secured it to the van with rope and bungee cords. James is confident it’ll hold for the rest of the journey, and he’s probably right given that we’re in the sag-wagon-moving-at-non-highway-speeds phase of the adventure, but we’ll be sporting a Beverly Hillbillies look as we travel the rest of the east coast.

Days Nine and Ten, Savannah, GA to Charleston, SC:

As advertised, yesterday (Sunday) Ken, James and I had a rest day in Savannah, which none of us had previously seen. James and I wandered the old city center during the morning while Ken was tied up with business, and I did the same during the afternoon, solo, searching unsuccessfully for a nice I-left-you-with-my-puppy present for the Beloved Spouse. I’ll have to try again in another place.

I found the older center city sections of Savannah to be quite beautiful. Rather than explaining why, I am attaching some pictures I took at the bottom of this post. Most were taken in the little pocket parks that appear every other block on the main streets; the last one looks down one of the residential streets. Glad we tarried there.

Late yesterday afternoon Ken spent some time showing James and me how he’s been designing the routes and importing the resulting turn by turn directions into his on-bicycle Garmin device. We knew that he would be leaving us after Charleston, and I had been putting off taking ownership of the mapping function because, as my mother used to say, a ship can have only one captain (or analogously in this case, navigator).

Ken is returning to New York first thing tomorrow. His presence on the first ten days of this adventure – like Tom’s on the first day – helped me both physically and psychologically; his absence will radically change the feel of the trip. Entirely apart from prospectively missing his companionship, the dynamics of solo riding are different.

Gone is the need to and benefit of coordinating pace with another. Drafting provides huge advantages in terms of energy conservation, and trading off the lead with another helps the time fly by; with luck those benefits are replaced by a Zen-like comfortable solitude. We’ll see.

In any event, I will be going solo at least until Baltimore, when James’s dad may join for a day. Thereafter, others are likely to join. Thus, I may only be alone on the road for the six or seven days, beginning now. Maybe.

Today’s ride:

The route from Savannah to Charleston was longer than we had expected it to be when we decided over a dinner table in Melbourne, Florida to take four days to get to Savannah rather than three because we had become convinced based on an online rider route review that the route from Savannah to Charleston would only be 106 miles. The distance we traveled today was 128 miles, meaning more than another hour longer on the road. All our mapping programs, and even online reviews, still regularly mislead. Indeed, even though Ken had painstakingly shown me how to design a route on Strava, then import it into my Garmin, and he had done the exact same thing re today’s planned course, it turned out en route that our Garmins were regularly disagreeing with each other. These disagreements led to confusion for us and ultimately lengthened the ride. Had we not had a daylong tailwind, the distance would have exhausted us terribly.

We had left Savannah too early to be able to find breakfast at or near the hotel, and to our surprise didn’t pass any open restaurants in the six or eight miles it took us to ride out of town. Then once we crossed a river we found ourselves entering South Carolina via a desolately beautiful and essentially uninhabited portion of the Low Country. The first available food we found, about 90 minutes into the ride, was a food truck and gas station/convenience store run by a family of Mexican immigrants. In the 20 minutes or so that it took us to order and eat our breakfasts, maybe twenty others stopped to eat or buy something else, none of them Anglos. The food was good and the daughter of the family, who took our orders in English, charming.

A happy guy

The ride was alternately spectacularly beautiful – with endless low country vistas – and not – when Route 17, on which we again spent much of the day, was just a busy highway (albeit with a safe shoulder) enclosed by unbroken woods. The woods may in fact have been quite interesting (when we stopped for five minutes to give my burning feet a break, we noticed that beneath the forest was a watery, bright green damp that was neither swamp nor solid ground), but usually we were far too busy watching the road to notice.

A couple of Low Country pictures:

The Low Country/Ken
The Low Country2/Ken

I was acting distinctly grumpy about the conflicting route instructions we were seeing on our Garmins, and the resulting delays and longer ride, when we stopped for a quick bite at a fast food place near Parris Island (where the Marines have an important base) when I received the happy news via an email from a friend that a mutual friend who had just undergone emergency surgery has come through it well. He might even be able to greet us when we get to Maine (where he lives). That sort of news will cure irritability every time.

Ken and I rolled up to our hotel in Charleston at 4:05 – virtually exactly when I had guessed we might to the friend of mine of many years – Elizabeth – whom we hoped and expected to see in Charleston. And so we did: she warm-heartedly treated the three of us tired travelers to a delicious dinner and a personally guided walking tour of her city.

All in all, a great day; tomorrow starts a different journey.

Savannah pictures:

James in Forsyth Park
The Telfair Museum
Another Pocket Park
A beautiful street

Day Ten’s stats and map:
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6717941374
Note that I forgot to turn my Garmin back on after a food break, losing seven miles of data. Oops.

Day Eleven, North Charleston to Lake City, SC:

Over breakfast this morning, James and I decided that today we would head NNE and inland rather than ENE toward Myrtle Beach and a possible subsequent route along the Outer Banks. The immediate impetus for this decision was the realization that the coastal route would have meant spending virtually all day today on a crowded, fast-moving Route 17; the deeper reason was that both of us felt that we had seen enough coastal resort communities over the last ten days and that it was time for a change.

James drove me to North Charleston – I didn’t think it necessary to essentially re-trace Ken’s and my path into the city yesterday, and skipping all that meant I avoided miles of stop and go city traffic. From North Charleston, I rode 87 miles to Lake City, South Carolina, where we are now. In a remarkably snappy hotel, I might add – certainly the nicest, though not the most expensive, since we were at the W in Miami.

The ride was every bit as different from all the previous ones on this trip as James and I had hoped. Gone were the destination cities and resorts, the ocean views and endless coastal marshes; instead we found ourselves (me riding, him driving) through woods most of the time – but also past a huge navy base, a national park, lots of decidedly new-and-prosperous looking industrial facilities and a handful of equally up-to-date looking towns. East central South Carolina is prospering, it seems.

(In one thriving neighborhood, along with the lovely homes I saw a fat black cow resting contentedly by the side of the road, unrestrained, outside what I’m guessing was her fenced yard. I regret not having stopped to take a picture).

The topography of the ride was different, too. Over the 850 miles or so that Ken and I rode from Key West to Charleston, the ground underneath our wheels was just plain flat; the only climbing we did was getting up and over the innumerable bridges. Today, the ground had constant undulations, too gentle to be called hills but, even so, a clear statement that we’ve left the shore. I don’t know when we’ll start running into real hills – within a day or two, I’d guess. They will slow me down considerably.

The road that I was on (except while on occasional diversions through residential neighborhoods like the one with the roadside cow) – Route 52 – had the look of a highway and allowed for fast-moving traffic, but rolling along was pleasant because the road bore only a fraction of the traffic it was designed to carry. Not only was there almost always a rideable shoulder, cars and trucks could and generally did move over a lane to give me even more space.

That said, Route 52 had sad stories to tell: during the day I counted nine little roadside crosses, of which three were in one grouping. One of the standalone crosses also had a ghostly, painted-white road bike planted alongside. On a long day in the saddle it’s not unusual to see one or two such memorials to people who died in traffic accidents, but nine is an extraordinary number. I shouldn’t have started counting.

On a separate note: a physician friend of mine, Bill, must have clicked through on the data link to yesterday’s post, because he cited the day’s 7,000+ Garmin calorie count in his comment.

I don’t take those calorie estimates seriously in an absolute sense, Bill; I think they have to be wrong. They are interesting in a relative sense, though: I find that by that measure of effort expended (which takes into account my weight, speed, duration and elevation gain, but not the wind) I can usually sustain a reported total of about 950 calories per hour for four to six hours; on the other hand, if I put out about 1100 reported calories for one hour, I’m done.

As to the real numbers of calories expended, beats me. What I do know, though, is that when I averaged about 92 miles a day on the cross country ride – similar to what I’m doing now – I lost 15 lbs in 39 days in spite of eating absolutely everything in sight. Once that ride ended, I regained the lost weight very quickly. I’m quite confident that the pattern will be the same this time, so really, any weight loss is basically meaningless.

Finally, it seems worth mentioning that I finished today’s ride more exhausted than I was after any of this trip’s previous rides, even yesterday’s when Ken and I rode 127 miles. Most likely my fatigue stems from the heat (low 90s and humid), from Ken’s absence and from the fact that I pushed myself too hard – averaging 17.5 mph. That might have been really dumb; I’ll find out tomorrow.

Today’s stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6723115864

Day Twelve, Lake City, SC, to Lumberton, NC:

As you may recall, James and I were stunned by the stylishness of the hotel we stayed in last night in what we had expected would be a wholly nondescript small town in South Carolina. Our amazement continued when we went out to dinner at a nice restaurant and walked past an art gallery featuring serious-looking modern art, then again this morning when we found a fabulous breakfast place nearby. So befuddled was I about the town’s unexpected signs of wealth that I asked our server at breakfast if she knew what lay behind the town’s obvious affluence. A very successful company? A government operation? Tourism? She said she didn’t know.

As I prepared to ride after breakfast, James googled the town and found the answer. Some billionaire named Moore – a woman – had poured hundreds of millions into the place.

“Wait” I responded, “Darla Moore?”

“That’s it” he responded.

“I know her,” I said “or did many years ago”.

How I had crossed paths with the town’s benefactor many years ago has nothing to do with cycling, but much to do with this region – and the interconnectedness of our great land, so it bears telling. Before I do so, though, a brief from-the-bike observation that I had intended to make anyway:

In Florida, Ken and I saw dozens and dozens of Trump lawn signs; those disappeared when we entered Georgia. What we began to see in Georgia, instead, and saw in increasing profusion in South Carolina, are lawn sign calls to Christian devotion – ‘Thank you, Jesus’, ‘Jesus Saves’ and especially ‘The only way to heaven – Jesus’. I was actually thinking of writing a little commentary on that last message yesterday, but decided it was wiser not to. Now for my story about Darla Moore:

Thirty five years ago, when I was a young media banker trying to get M&A assignments (and working with my friend Jacques of Days Three and Four fame), I stumbled across a lead into a crazy situation in the Carolinas that might involve the sales of a powerful radio signal (theoretically my expertise at the time) and of a huge, religiously-oriented campus: a couple of televangelists named Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker had assembled those assets in the course of running what amounted to a Ponzi scheme – they had been selling timeshares on the campus to the religiously devout without, apparently, feeling limited by the number of units they had to sell.

To follow up on the lead, I arranged to visit the campus and called in support from an older and much more senior banker – a hotshot southern woman who was in charge of our bank’s debtor-in-possession lending named Darla Moore. She actually knew something about bankruptcies, and we figured that would be helpful.

We flew down from New York, visited the campus and talked about the possible assignment with the representative of the trustee in bankruptcy. Darla was the star of our show, of course, I the respectful second fiddle. We were told that we would get the assignment to sell all the assets – which would’ve been a big coup for us – but a few weeks later, for unrelated reasons, the trustee resigned and was replaced, and we didn’t.

My impression from our conversations on the flights to and from our meetings on the campus was that Darla was good and angry about the situation. She memorably described those who had been fleeced by the Bakkers as ‘little old ladies sitting in front of their TVs in their socks’. Now I get it: she had grown up with the children and grandchildren of those little old ladies; she knew them.

Darla went on to have a brilliant career, married Richard Rainwater (one of the most successful investors of his generation), became a philanthropist and brought some of her money back home. Good on her.

Today’s ride took me 89 miles from Lake City to the outskirts of Lumberton, NC. For pure riding pleasure, it was by far the best country I’ve been through on this journey. These three pictures will help me explain why:

Nice countryside. No (or vanishingly few) cars and trucks. Good roads. Easy wheeling.

The easy wheeling part is actually pretty interesting. Yesterday I felt good and rode hard for 87 miles, averaging 17.5 mph and utterly exhausting myself in the process. Today I was determined to take it much easier, and I resolved to not even look at my speed, focusing on my Garmin’s map function instead.

I just rolled along, enjoying the views, feeling relaxed and assuming that the easier pace would mean an average of 15 mph or so and much more time in the saddle. When I reached the hotel at ride’s end, I saw that I had averaged 16.75 mph over 89 miles – close to yesterday’s result with a fraction of the perceived effort. Go figure.

Little old ladies watching televangelists in their socks or not, most of the countryside between Lake City, SC and here has a distinctly prosperous feel. There were a few rundown shacks along the way, and an apparently dying downtown that James and I passed through, but most of the homes and businesses looked perfectly happy. The biggest industry, if you can call it that, seems to be tree farming, but the local economy must be much more diverse than what I saw from my bike to support so many people so well.

We are planning to take a somewhat meandering route over the next five days so we’ll get to the home of another friend next Monday, when he’ll be back from someplace else, rather than pass by earlier. After all, a very big part of the reason I’m doing this trip is to reconnect with friends – and the byways that we’ll travel on the meandering route will surely be prettier than the shorter, more direct way, anyway.

Today’s Stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6728501149

Day Thirteen, Lumberton to Goldsboro, NC:

Today we headed off at an angle to avoid the more crowded roads we would’ve expected to find had we gone due north to Fayetteville and eventually Raleigh. We ended the day in Goldsboro, NC, 104 miles NE from the day’s start in Lumberton.

In some respects the countryside I was riding through was indistinguishable from yesterday’s. I could’ve taken pictures that looked just the same. The feel of the ride was quite different, though. For one thing, I was riding straight into a fairly strong headwind all day long – so while the roads ahead might have looked the same in a photograph, today they felt a great deal less welcoming. For another, the day was also 20 degrees or more cooler than the previous twelve – an unmixed blessing, particularly for my feet, which didn’t catch fire in hour five as they had been doing.

Maybe it was the wind, or maybe I’m getting spoiled by sylvan vistas and quiet roads, but I was by no means as entranced by the first sixty miles of today’s ride as I had been by yesterday’s. It just looked like more of the same, with less charm. I did see one thing that struck me as fascinating, though:

In the course of this ride, as in virtually all my other rides in the US, I have seen immeasurably more American flags than indications of political or religious positions. Many, many Americans, north and south, east and west, proudly display the flag. Before this trip I wondered whether I might see many (defiant) Confederate battle flags as I rode through the South. Thus far, I have seen exactly three, and this morning’s was the most interesting. I was passing a row of five or six neat-as-pins houses that – judging from the children out front, are owned by African Americans. Behind them was a bedraggled trailer flying both the American flag and the Confederate battle flag. One wonders what those neighbors think of each other.

My morning funk improved notably when James and I stopped for lunch at a very good Italian restaurant in Clinton; if only it had doubled its prices the restaurant would have been fully at home in the northeast where good Italian restaurants are legion.

I momentarily confused our server, a woman of about James’s age, by ordering a Coca-Cola; apparently around here that beverage is referred to as a Coke or a Co-cola, but not as a Coca-Cola. I also ordered a theoretically personal-size Margarita pizza; when the server brought it out, she mentioned that she had always wanted to try that kind, so, knowing that I couldn’t possibly finish it, I offered her a couple of pieces. She rather sheepishly accepted the offer, and later brought out a to-go box so I could pass them to her.

When we stepped out of the restaurant, James and I spent a moment watching and listening to a black preacher sermonizing from the courthouse steps to an assembled flock of about 25 – both black and white, all dressed well.

I then got back on my bike and found that, objectively or otherwise, for the next twenty-five or thirty miles the scenery was much improved. The countryside was overwhelmingly peaceful – very few cars and trucks, woods, small farms and prosperous-looking homes. It was also contoured – the ground rose and fell more regularly; I even switched into my smaller front chainring once – a first for this trip. Actual hills are coming.

On the way to dinner with James tonight, spying another rider from the van, it struck me that since leaving Charleston, I hadn’t seen anybody else on a road bike: in other words, I had covered 280 miles of mostly gorgeous roads without seeing a cyclist. Crazy.

I watch for indications of cultural shifts, even knowing that I may be over-interpreting the hints I see. Today, Trump signs were in evidence again, though nowhere nearly as thickly as in Florida, and I saw fewer calls to Christian piety.

Leaving Mount Olive I noticed the first Congregational church – a denomination generally associated with New Englanders – of the trip; its sign announced that it had been established in 1870 – I’m guessing by so-called carpet-baggers who didn’t want to worship with the families of defeated Confederates. While contemplating all that, and entering Goldsboro, I also saw the first mosque I’ve seen on this trip.

For most of the day today, it looked as if the area’s major economic activity was small-scale farming: in addition to the numerous places where trees are being grown commercially, I passed hog and dairy farms and many crop-growing farms that looked to be 100 or 150 acres in size, bounded by trees.

That said, the end of the day’s ride, rolling through Mount Olive and into Goldsboro, revealed a very different picture: I passed large, modern-looking processing plants, warehouses and headquarters buildings for three significant agribusinesses: Mt Olive Pickles, Georgia-Pacific Lumber and Case Farms Chickens. Most of these plants – and some of the farms I passed – had signs in English and Spanish, advertising work. Goldsboro also has an Air Force base; it’s not a small town.

104 miles into the wind today was a bit of a groan, but I’m glad I did it. I’m now committed to seeing my friend in the DC area, 300+ miles up the road, in four days, and tomorrow looks like it might be a washout. James and I will meet early in the morning to see if there’s likely to be a window in which I can cover at least some distance, but if not, getting to my friend’s on time will require three long rides in a row, or four including today’s. Oh, well, so much for meandering.

Stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6734361258

Day Fourteen, Goldsboro to Halifax, NC:

Before I set out on my ride from Los Angeles to the Connecticut shoreline five years ago, I decided that a custom-made steel bike would provide me with the most comfortable, and therefore most sustainable, ride. Sure, a steel frame would weigh a couple of pounds more than carbon fiber or aluminum, but it would absorb road vibrations that would otherwise take quite a tollI on such a journey, and it’s not like the added weight would mean much to a man in late middle age who wasn’t trying to set any land speed records.

I asked Michael Barry, a friend, an ex-pro cyclist, a second generation bike maker and a fine writer (seriously: read Shadows on the Road if you want the true, sad story about the pro cycling doping scandals, lyrically presented) to make me two such bikes (in case I had mechanical problems far from help). As a matter of interest, each of these bikes cost less than my non-custom carbon one.

I’m riding the same two bikes on this adventure, and for the same reasons. At the conclusion of today’s 87 mile ride from Goldsboro, NC, to just shy of Halifax, NC, I realized that coincidentally I was also wearing the Mariposa (that being Michael and Dede Barry’s bicycle brand) kit, so I asked James to snap a picture. Here it is:

I may have been – ok, was – exhausted when James snapped that picture, but I’m pretty sure I would’ve been in worse shape if the bike had been less comfortable. Quite sure, in fact.

Today’s ride was disjointed, interrupted for nearly two hours by rain; I’m lucky it happened at all, given that the forecast was for all-day thunderstorms, which would have set me back considerably. During the morning, pre-interruption, segment, I was feeling chilled in the 52 degree weather, for which I wasn’t properly dressed, moving slowly and watching the possible thunderclouds, so I didn’t focus as much on my surroundings as I usually try to do.

During our rain break, James and I drove around the town of Wilson, looking first to see if we could find a distinctive away-present for the Beloved Spouse, then for food. The town was looking tired and cold, too; among some abandoned buildings I spotted a ‘Narcan saves lives’ sign, somehow simultaneously depressing and kind. It’s easy to forget when choosing to follow beautiful country roads that sometimes the small towns that used to center rural lives are fading away, while regional centers grow.

We didn’t find any gifts: I was looking for something local, but all four antique shops – listed as an attraction on Google – were closed, probably due to the effects of the recent Covid lockdowns. James found a little Jamaican restaurant, though, and introduced me to another delicious cuisine.

After lunch, I put on the warmer Mariposa shirt, the sky brightened considerably and my outlook brightened along with it. My increased warmth couldn’t do much for my speed, though: again, the wind was strong and directly adverse, so after 87 miles I was very glad to finish – which explains my smile in the above picture.

I have only a couple more observations about what I saw today, one rather sour:

The first is that while, once again, I saw many picturesque farms like the one below,

I also saw, and became irritated by, long stretches of roadside that were defaced by considerable amounts of litter. I would be riding along with a lovely farm or woods to my side and along the road I would see all kinds of disgusting junk. Not always, you understand – often, there was none – but every so often, seemingly for defined stretches. It’s like once somebody chucks their trash out their car window, others think it’s ok to do the same. Yuck.

I hasten to add that I have seen much the same roadside trash out west and in the northeast; it’s a culture-wide problem. What’s wrong with us?

One reason I take these journeys and love savoring the regional differences in our vast and beautiful land is that I yearn to – and generally do – feel fully at home in America, anywhere in America. I find that our countrymen of all stripes are generally open-hearted and welcoming; that’s true, for example, whether I’m riding through counties of ardent Trump supporters, as now, or Bidenland, as I will be from Richmond onward. What we share is immensely more important than the things we disagree about.

So when I see roadside trash, I ask myself: why would anybody treat our home like that?

The next few days should be a bit easier as we take our time in getting to my friend’s home near DC when he’ll be there. Thereafter, we’ll again have a bit of a meander, this time on the Delmarva peninsula, to time a stop-over with James’s parents, brother and sister-in-law to the Beloved Spouse, in Philadelphia. Occasional depressing sights and discomforts aside, this trip just keeps getting better.


Stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6739453291

Day Fifteen, Roanoke Rapids, NC, to Petersburg, VA:

Today’s ride was easy. I covered 77.5 miles, heading more or less due north to Petersburg, VIrginia, at a relaxed pace in near-perfect weather. The NNW wind hindered me from time to time, particularly when my course veered temporarily in its direction, but given the limited distance I knew I had to ride, the absence of any time pressure and the bracingly fresh, cool air I was breathing, I didn’t let those slowdowns get on my nerves.

The first surprise along the way was passing through a very New England-y looking suburb just outside Roanoke Rapids, N.C. Unlike the more uniform, newer subdivisions that we had been seeing, this one had substantial, perfectly-kept homes of many styles and vintages on lots of various sizes. It looked a lot like the town in which the Beloved Spouse and I raised our children.

To give you an idea of just how deep country most of the rest of the day’s cycling route felt: with the exception of one town, Emporia at the day’s mile 24, we didn’t see so much as a gas station for about 50 miles after we entered Virginia.

Miles 5-23 on the day were as pretty as any I have seen on this trip, with immaculate hilltop farms separated by patches of forest, well-tended homes (though few in number) and fantastic, traffic-free roads. I had some frightened moments, though: two enormous black labs came out into the street, barking up a storm and threatening to bite. For a couple of hundred yards, they ran along both sides of my bike, close enough to maybe lunge for a leg. All you can do in a situation like that is keep pedaling and try to shout with authority. They paid no attention to my shouting, but both stopped when they reached some unseen boundary.

After Emporia, which wasn’t much, the road we traveled felt even more rural: it had no center line and was only just wide enough for two cars. No problem there, though: I never saw two cars on it at the same time, and for much of the way can’t remember even one car (other than James in the bike van) passing me from behind. That section – roughly miles 26-60 – had very, very few farms or residences – it was almost all woods on both sides. Not a place for those who fear being alone.

Also, on two occasions my Garmin warned my that I was about to have to turn onto an unpaved road, once correctly; I found a work-around.

When it came time for us to have our lunches, at around mile 48, James had to go off route looking for a place to buy sandwiches and ended up driving an extra thirty miles in total. Given how rural all that seemed, I should point out an irony that James and I remarked upon when he returned with our sandwiches: while the roads we were on made us feel like we were in deep country, a hundred miles from the nearest town, we were actually quite close to that great river of commerce, Route 95, all day long.

Talk about your different realities! The commercial anonymity of speed, never-changing vistas and fast food brands, on the one hand, and the seemingly eternal, quiet beauty of immaculate countryside on the other, side by side and ignoring each other happily.

The other comment James made as we sat eating our lunches is that he has been surprised by the huge numbers of African Americans that we have been seeing in the countryside of the Carolinas and Virginia – likely at least half of the total. He had always thought of our nation’s rural parts as being overwhelmingly white.

The roll-in to Petersburg was much less scenic. I stopped by a memorial to the Confederate dead at the city limit, but decided that even if I took a picture, you probably couldn’t make out the words, as they are simply cut into the stone and have been worn by the years. At least on the roads I was on, the town, too, has seen much better days: boarded-up houses were much in evidence, often alongside occupied and well-tended ones. Just as I was remarking to myself that unlike in the Carolinas I hadn’t seen any large scale industrial enterprises all day, I saw a Boar’s Head plant, then some empty-looking warehouses and a mile-long CSX train moving slowly on tracks alongside the road, carrying who knows what.

An interesting day, and comparatively restful. I expect that in the coming days things will start feeling more familiar. The northeast, I figure, now begins somewhere between Richmond and Washington, DC.

Stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6745218262

Day Sixteen, Petersburg to Fredericksburg, VA:

My luck continues to be absurdly good. No rainouts, generally fair winds and days like today, when I had to ride on some roads that under normal circumstances would have been expected to be awful, but were great.

The first twenty miles of today’s 88.5 mile ride from Petersburg, VA to Fredericksburg, VA were on Route One. In that section, the east coast’s oldest thoroughfare is a straight, four lane behemoth, mostly without a shoulder, on which drivers are entitled to go 55 mph and often go much faster. We just happened to be passing through at a time – Sunday morning, from 7:00 AM until about 8:15 – when the world was basically asleep, so not only did I get to enjoy a quiet and safe ride in what could have been an awful segment, I had the chance to look around, and saw much to think about.

Hereabouts, Route One is named in honor of the president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis. This region saw by far the greatest concentration of Civil War battles, and as you know, the locals of that time were on the losing side, trying to defend their homes and the indefensible with rivers of blood.

All along the way to Richmond, often tucked in unobtrusively, opposite retail or service establishments of the sort that can be found along Route One from Florida to Maine, I saw perhaps a dozen sad, commemorative signs like the one below:

I hope you can read it – it tells of a nearby skirmish with about 4,000 casualties. The butchers’ bills from the major battles in this region – the Peninsula Campaign, Malvern Hill, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Cold Harbor and the Richmond-Petersburg campaign, to name just the really biggies, were staggering. The total number of Civil War dead, from both sides, is thought to have been about 750,000 – roughly equivalent to the sum of American dead in all our other wars combined; given that the US population was then less than 1/10th of what it is now, in today’s terms, that would be like having about 8.5 million dead. Staggering.

When I got to Richmond, on Monument Avenue I rode past the now-empty plinth where a statue of JEB Stuart stood until recently; and just down the road, this one of Lee:

I’m guessing he’ll be gone soon.

It took me a good, slow while to get out of Richmond on my bike; once I did, continuing north toward Fredericksburg I found myself in beautiful, suburban countryside, but now with something new: other cyclists. I saw five or ten riders on road bikes – the first I’d seen while riding since Charleston. What’s more, the city or county had laid out and marked a route parallel to Route One, an alternate One for cyclists, presumably for our safety. A nice innovation and, if I may say so, a cultural touchstone.

After leaving Richmond’s northernmost suburbs, the countryside became hillier than I’d seen on this journey. More farms, many devoted to horses. Once again, James had to go off-route to find us lunch. We ate by the side of the road:

Given our early start, we rolled into Fredericksburg at about 1:30. It’s a neat little town – perfect for finding an away-gift for the Beloved Spouse with a little FaceTime help from a far-away daughter, which I did. (I know you were getting nervous about that).

By the standards of this trip, tomorrow’s ride will be short – maybe 60 miles. Afterwards, we’re going to do a little sightseeing in our nation’s capital, then head to the home of yet another friend whom I haven’t seen in too long.

As I wrote, I’m an absurdly lucky man. At least I know it.

Stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6751235257

Day Seventeen, Petersburg to Dahlgren, VA and Bel Alton, MD to Piscataway, MD:

This morning at breakfast, James and I decided that rather than aim straight for Washington, DC, I would ride ENE toward a crossing of the Potomac at Dahlgren, then after crossing the Dahlgren bridge in the van, do a second segment heading toward the District through Maryland. This route was expected to have much less traffic than a straight shot from Fredericksburg NNE through suburban Virginia, and to set the stage for tomorrow’s (also split) rides to Annapolis and then on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake.

Our luck with the weather was expected to hold, with temperatures slated to rise steadily from 53 at 8:00 AM into the 60s, and the chance of rain negligible, so I decided to skip leg coverings and wore only a light vest over my shirt. In that I chose poorly. As I rode toward Dahlgren, the temperature dropped to 52 and stayed there, while the clouds decided to bless us with a light mist for a few miles, making the air feel much colder. I rode slowly.

The countryside got prettier and prettier and emptier and emptier as I approached Dahlgren (mile 37); also much hillier. It had plenty of woods but unlike the other rural parts of Virginia that I’ve seen in recent days, no farms. I concluded that people with some means live in the area (along the south side of the eastward-flowing Potomac) for its riverside-and-woods beauty, others to serve those who are there for that reason.

After the river crossing, the Maryland side of the Potomac started off looking like the Virginia side, but very quickly evolved into something very different. I rode (and James drove) past mile after mile of new subdivisions (‘New Homes from the 300s!’). Some of the developments seemed big enough to be towns in their own right. Traffic increased too, very steadily, as I approached, then entered, Prince George’s County. What had been a quiet, if uncomfortable, ride on the Virginia side became congested semi-highway riding in Maryland. The temperature stayed chilly, too, though without the mist.

I was happy to get off the bike after only 60 miles of riding on the day, with the excuse that I wanted a few hours of free time to drive into the District and show it to James before we were expected at my friend’s house in Chevy Chase.

Miraculously, the weather turned quite beautiful as we headed into the city, so James and I ended up having a wonderful time walking the Mall and around Georgetown. The Smithsonian museums were closed due to Covid, but we wouldn’t have had time to check them out and also take in the sights we did, anyway. The capital is a special place and was looking particularly clean and shiny in springtime and without its usual crowds of (other) tourists.

We are spending the evening at the home of a now-famous friend who, decades ago, used to ride with Tom, me and other (Westchester County, NY -based) neighbors every weekday morning. Since then he has lived in Washington, but we have stayed in close touch. In my experience, friendships forged through cycling’s unique, simultaneous mixture of competition and cooperation, last.

Not a great day of riding, but still a great day.

Stats and map:
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6755378144
and
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6756014266

Day Eighteen, Largo to Amberly, MD and Stevensville to Chestertown, MD:

It was a great delight for James and me to spend some time with my old friend and his wife last night.

Today’s 71 mile ride took me first from Washington’s eastern suburbs (near where I had stopped yesterday) to Annapolis, then from Kent Island, just over the Bay Bridge, north along the Delmarva peninsula’s western coastline (a.k.a., the Chesapeake’s Eastern Shore) to Chestertown.

I was feeling great when we set out this morning. The first half of the 30 mile segment to Annapolis was on big, anonymous roads, but I had a wide shoulder and almost all the traffic was heading the other way – toward D.C. I spun along merrily at a nice clip, not thinking about very much other than the joy of movement.

As I got closer to Annapolis, the scenery came into my conscious view – quieter roads, more elegant homes and a new subdivision (with a sign announcing ‘New homes from the 700s’). My thoughts turned to some fond memories that took place at Annapolis long ago.

Somewhere in my basement at home there’s a trash bag full of racing jerseys that I won as an oarsman in high school and college. It used to be that the losers in a crew race had to ceremonially present the winners with their school jerseys. It popped into my head as I wheeled into Annapolis that it would’ve been fun to be wearing one of the two yellow singlets, each with a with a diagonal, navy blue stripe and an identifying N, that I won in races against the Naval Academy more than forty years ago. I never would have done that sort of thing, you understand, but I thought of it with a smile.

After we crossed the Bay Bridge in the van, James let me off on Kent Island so I could continue the journey by bicycle.

I have fond memories of the Delmarva peninsula too. Nine years ago I was here for five or six days with the Beloved Spouse and a group of friends. We were on a bike trip, enjoying the fantastic riding hereabouts while waiting for another friend (whom I dubbed Michael the RAAM King) and his team to triumphantly finish their record-setting Race Across America effort. We learned then, and I relearned today, that for flat, pretty, nearly traffic-free riding this area has few peers.

Most of the Peninsula is farmland – substantially larger farms than I’ve been seeing on this journey, but still on a human (or family) scale, nothing like the as-far-as-the-eye-can-see farming operations out west. Every so often, the Chesapeake or one of the rivers that flows into it comes into view, usually accompanied by a pretty little waterfront town. These towns – Chestertown is one – are old, with prosperous-looking little marinas and immaculately maintained 19th century buildings with shops inside. There are lovely patches of woods between the farms and towns, too, but they don’t dominate the landscape here as they often seemed to do in the Carolinas and Virginia. It’s great bicycling country.

James and I are intentionally dawdling a little – both directionally and by taking easier days, to time our visit to his family’s home in Philadelphia for Thursday rather than tomorrow. Consequently, tomorrow’s ride will be a loop on the Peninsula, returning us to Chestertown. (And I probably won’t write a post tomorrow, as it would be too repetitive).

There are worse places to tarry.

Stats and maps:
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6759772716
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6760486421
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6761367128

Day Nineteen, Church Hill, MD loop and Chestertown to Fredericktown, MD:

I was (clearly) wrong when I wrote yesterday that I wouldn’t write about today. I’m too eager to capture the memories of these days before they fade away to not record them. You probably knew that.

James made a terrific suggestion at breakfast this morning: that we not only do a loop through the Maryland side of the Delmarva peninsula today, but also get a jump on tomorrow’s one-way ride to (his family’s home in) Philadelphia by doing an extra 20 mile northbound leg after the southbound loop. That way we’ll have more time to catch up with his parents, do much-needed laundry and meet the friend, Dom, who intends to do Friday’s complex ride/ferry/ride to Westchester County, NY with me, when he arrives by train at 30th Street Station. The ‘extra’ 20 miles today brought the day’s total to about 84 miles, some of which went foolishly unrecorded, and will shorten tomorrow’s ride to about 82 miles – eminently sensible.

The loop was great fun. I won’t repeat yesterday’s superlatives, though they unreservedly apply; my only new big picture comment about the 63 mile circuit I did is that this land of immaculate farms seems beautifully peaceable.

Oh, and I saw flag that made me laugh:

Since Chestertown is toward the northern end of the peninsula, and the farther north one travels the closer one gets to Baltimore to the WSW and Wilmington to the ENE (we’ll be trying to find relatively traffic-free roads between them, as between Scylla and Charybdis, tomorrow), I expected today’s twenty mile northbound leg to be ever less beautiful; but again, I was wrong. It was just as attractively farm-y, if gradually less flat, all the way to Fredericktown, where I stopped.

The plan is to leave very early for Philadelphia tomorrow, do all the things we should do there, then leave very early for NY on Friday. Friday’s journey will begin with a ride (with Dom!) to the Atlantic Highlands Ferry, followed by a ferry crossing of New York Harbor, then another (inevitably slow and careful) 15-20 mile ride through Manhattan, the Bronx and a bit of southern Westchester County. That last part isn’t as crazy as it may sound – I used to ride those roads home from the office where I worked, once upon a time. And following that route will get Dom and me to our respective homes, bypassing Newark and most of New Jersey’s thickly settled suburbs. James will have to drive from Atlantic Highlands to Westchester, through all the conurbation we’ll have skipped, but on highways.

Then we’ll take Saturday off so I can spend time with the Beloved Spouse, my older daughter, three of my grandchildren and my puppy Sunny. Sunday, we’ll leave for the last four legs of the journey.

Stats and maps:
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6767802191
https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6768373060

Day Twenty, Fredericktown, MD to Philadelphia, PA:

Today was a rough day. I covered 77 miles from Galena, MD to Philadelphia, PA at what turned out to be an agonizingly slow pace.

The ride started out well. It was cold – 46 degrees – when I began rolling, but the roads on the northernmost section of the Delmarva peninsula were still flat and the winds mild so with moderate effort I was able to spin along at around 16.5 mph for the first hour or hour and a half, during which time I saw – and exchanged waves with – an Amish mother taking her children somewhere by horse-drawn wagon. I slowed when I passed through Chesapeake City, and again while going through Elkton, but had no idea in the latter case that there would be no subsequent flatland accelerations for the very simple reason that there would be no more flat lands.

For the rest of the day’s ride (well, until I got to the bike path along the Schuykill River, just before entering Philly) I was either climbing or descending. I believe that I did more climbing in the last four hours of today’s ride than I had done in the previous nineteen days of the journey combined. It was like I’d entered a different, and much more threatening, world.

The scenery was lovely, I’m sure, but I didn’t see it. My eyes were glued to the road ahead, ever fearful of the next topographical nightmare. There was a time when I liked hills. It was a long time ago.

I have vague recollections of an historic town on the Delaware side of the state line, of a park I descended into and climbed out of, of exurbs that would’ve looked nice from a car and of streams and rivers running alongside the roads I was on, with me seemingly always going against the flow.

On the bright side, it would’ve been worse if James hadn’t suggested that I do an extra 20 yesterday to make today shorter.

Tomorrow Dom and I will have to ride at least 1 mph faster than I averaged today if we are to make the ferry. I’m hoping New Jersey – the bulk of the ride – will be much flatter than the region west and south of Philadelphia.

Stats and map: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6773346812

Day Twenty-One, Philadelphia, PA to Atlantic Highlands, NJ (and a brief ride in Manhattan, NY):

Game over.

Written Friday evening:

This morning’s ride with Dom from Philadelphia to the ferry at Atlantic Highlands was by far the most satisfying effort of the journey. As you will recall, we were anxious about making the 12:20 PM ferry – otherwise we would’ve had to wait four more hours – so we set off from Sam and Julia’s house at 5:30 AM, just as the pre-dawn light allowed us to see the roads in front of us.

In spite of our eagerness to make good time, the descent into and climb out of Fairmount Park, followed by 15 or 20 miles of city-then-complicated-suburban-streets meant that an hour’s effort brought us only slightly more than 15 miles from our starting place – a pace that would have meant six hours of riding and very limited breaks to make the ferry.

Thereafter, though, not only did the roads clear out, the landscape became flatter (and prettier, as farmland with old stone farmhouses began to appear). Our pace picked up smartly – and held for the rest of the ride. In spite of the inevitable slowdowns in towns – particularly Princeton, which our Strava-algorithm-designed route took us right through – we covered the 88 mile distance to the ferry in 5:12, for a door-to-door average rolling speed of 16.9 mph. In addition to being a great friend, Dom is a stronger rider than I am, so he was doing most of the leading and his pacing was rock-solid.

The countryside was very pretty. After crossing the Delaware near Washington’s Crossing we saw only lovely homes and woods all the way to Princeton. As we wheeled slowly past Princeton’s campus, for Dom’s benefit I noted a few points of historical interest – the dorm where your humble correspondent had spent sophomore year, Nassau Hall, which had once been the seat of the Continental Congress and had taken some bullets in the battle of Princeton, the college’s even-more-hallowed (well, to me) boat house – that sort of thing. Dom took this picture in front of Nassau hall:

I hadn’t meant the day’s ride to take me down memory lane; it just happened.

After leaving campus and crossing Route One, we once again found ourselves on comparatively flat roads, riding by scattered homes and pretty farms most of the way to the coast. New Jersey was looking her best. Apart from the inevitable slowdowns for lights and the like, we were comfortably riding at 18 or 19 mph. It was loads of fun, and we ended up arriving at the ferry terminal a full hour before we had to.

After a pleasant ferry ride (on which, for the first time in this journey, I was told to wear a mask) to the southern tip of Manhattan we decided to end the day with a gentle ride on the bike path between the West Side Highway and the Hudson River – the latter a sparkling sight – then to work our ways through the automotive and human maze that is the Bronx.

We never made it.

As I spun slowly along on the bike path in Manhattan, watching for stray pedestrians, my Garmin flashed a message that somebody important was calling me. Not knowing that it would turn out to have been a butt dial, I decided that we should stop urgently so I could take the call. I shouted to Dom, who was just ahead, and reached around with my right hand to pull my phone out of my jersey’s rear pocket – my bad. I looked up and saw that Dom had stopped – and that I was about to crash into him. I jammed my left (front) brake and promptly flipped ass-over-teakettle, landing head first on the pavement.

Several nearby people immediately asked if I needed help. I got up, initially feeling ok, said no thank you and got back on my bike.

The left half of my handlebar was broken by the impact but held on (uselessly) by its handlebar tape, and as I rode north I found that my right hand (which still had a handlebar and brake to grip) gradually began to hurt in a serious way. As the adrenaline of the accident wore off, I couldn’t brake without real pain, so Dom made the sensible suggestion that we take the train to Westchester from Grand Central, which we did.

Written Saturday morning:

I refused to go to the doctor late yesterday afternoon and went to bed still holding out hope that I would awaken this morning with my right hand/wrist magically improved such that I could continue the journey on my spare bike after today’s pre-planned rest day. No such luck – it’s worse, so I’ll be off to Urgent Care shortly. I now accept that whether or not I have a broken bone in there, there’s no way I will be able to continue safely with my right hand in pain.

So this adventure is over.

It has been a great privilege to roll through the southeast – for me, much of it was an exploration – to see so many friends whom I hadn’t seen for a year or more and to hear directly and indirectly from so many of you. The truth is that the last four days of the planned ride would have felt more like a homecoming than an exploration – these are the states in which I’ve spent my life, and I’ve ridden most of the roads I would have been traveling many times – but I will miss both spending the last two days riding with another old friend named Tom (and spending the last evening on the road at the home he shares with his lovely wife Janet) and I’ll miss the sense of completion I would have gotten from making it to Portland.

This is a big, warm-hearted country; its regional differences are fascinating and its people, I find, are almost uniformly welcoming and interested in strangers. It’s worth seeing, up close and personal, and for me the bicycle (with support from a sag driver!) provides a wonderful way to do that.

Many thanks to Ken, Tom and Dom for having ridden with me, to our wonderful friends who acted as hosts along the way, to James, who has been a great sag driver, navigator, on the road nutrition-provider, hotel and restaurant finder and all-around companion and especially to the Beloved Spouse, who makes all things possible.

Stats: https://connect.garmin.com/modern/activity/6778325104

3/17/21 Final Comments:

Out for a walk with Sunny this morning, it struck me that I should share a couple of final observations about the FLA/ME ride (now perhaps more properly the FLA/NY ride) on topics that I had intended to comment on in in-ride posts, but never got to.

The first is about food and fluids. If you’re anything like me, you’re probably at a stage in life at which your intake habits are fairly well settled. My breakfasts and lunches are designed to be healthy and reasonably quick; there’s more variety in my dinners, but not, in truth, all that much.

Such habits go right out the window when one’s daily caloric burn suddenly rises by a factor of three or four times – especially because while on the road in unfamiliar places the things we are accustomed to eating are often unavailable. Faced with the prospect of a long day in the saddle, I looked at possible foods with a different eye – wondering exactly what kind of energy they would provide and whether they’d unsettle my stomach. By mile 35 or 40, irrespective of what I had consumed for breakfast, I had a profoundly felt compulsion for more food and lots of it – and as the days wore on I often found myself consuming large volumes of things I wouldn’t dream of having under more normal circumstances.

For example, by about Day Three I had firmly instructed James to keep the van stocked with Peanut M&Ms and full sugar Coke, and would down both ravenously when about 3/4ths of the way through the day’s ride. They (let’s face it, were delicious and) would give me a huge burst of energy for the last push. Then whenever I got to where we were going, I would snack, then eat much more dinner than normal. All of which makes perfect sense, but also – over the course of weeks – creates new habits that it would be better to break quickly now that the ride is over, which I know from experience will be less easy than you might think. My body now sends me insistent signals: more Peanut M&Ms and Coke, please, and why not have seconds of that meal?

The second is a cultural observation: from roughly the Florida/Georgia line until our exit from the Delmarva peninsula, in rural areas most of the people I saw outside, including many big-rig truckers whose eyes crossed mine as they approached from the opposite direction, would exchange friendly waves with me. I took these exchanges as simple – and heartening – acknowledgements of our shared humanity and that we were both in a particular place at the same moment in time. I don’t think the prevalence of such gestures is a southern thing, per se – I also remember seeing them throughout the west’s vast countryside – I think they’re a totem of rural life.

After two days of riding on the Delmarva peninsula, James reacted to my effusive praise of its charms by asking if I would consider moving there. Not a chance. I know astonishingly little about plant and animal life, which I’m pretty sure means that most of my neighbors, were I to move there, would quickly conclude I was a misplaced city boy at best, an idiot at worst. And, friendly though they might still be, they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. I belong in or around our nation’s great cities, and I know it.

And finally, perhaps compensating in part for the disappointment I feel at not quite completing the planned adventure, I am holding fast to an offhand compliment that Dom made along the way. The gist of it was that he thinks of me as somebody who does things – organizes book clubs, writes (this blog and other things), pursues varied business interests and dreams up and goes on personalized outdoor adventures (I know it was all those things that he was thinking about without his having had to explicitly reference them, because we have crossed paths on all of them).

His comment made me smile – and it provides an appropriate segue to this conclusion: on March 3rd, I wrote a post announcing that I had decided to try to embark on two great new adventures – first, the FLA/ME ride and, second, pursuing a complex new business opportunity that I’ve been thinking about for years. That will be my next great adventure: seeing if I can make a successful business out of a big idea that I’m convinced makes sense. I think it’ll take me between one and three years’ work and a fair bit of money to find out.

It’s worth a try.

M.H. Johnston

2 comments to FLA/ME Posts Consolidated

  • Anonymous  says:

    I somehow missed this post and was wondering why I haven’t seen more. How are you feeling? Hows your hand? Thoroughly enjoyed reading your post from this trip. Hope to see you on the road one of these days.

    • M Johnston  says:

      Still quite sore, but as of two days ago, riding again. 9 days of inactivity drove me crazy.

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