Expedition 2016, Week 4: Washington, NC – Mentor, OH, the History Tour

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Morning coffee and pastry at Rachel K’s Bakery, Washington, North Carolina

Having spent the first two and a half weeks exploring the 16th-century Spanish settlements and the 17th- and 18th-century British settlements on our 19th-century invention, the bicycle, we headed into the 20th century, driving our rental car to the Outer Banks to see where the age of the airplane started.  But, first, a trip to Rachel K’s Bakery in Washington, NC for coffee and a pastry (to share–we have to watch our diet when no longer bicycling).

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Bridge between Roanoke Island and Nags Head on the Outer Banks

Our new path (and steed) took us across Roanoke Island, site of a failed colonization attempt in the 16th century: the “Lost Colony,” where the supply ship found no trace of the colonists when returning the following year.  We briefly drove through the modern town of Manteo before crossing the bridge to Nags Head.

We headed south as far as Waves, the easternmost point on Hatteras Island, then back north.  Again, we were glad we had chosen to drive the rest of our tour, rather than attempt to bicycle this route.  NC Hwy 12, which runs the length of the Outer Banks, has a narrow shoulder marked as a bike lane, in places, but the winter winds had drifted the sand dunes over parts of it; other sections of the road were under construction or repair, and the bridges were narrow with debris strewn in the “bike lane.”

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Stabilizing the dunes at the north end of Hatteras Island, Outer Banks. the “bike lane” is nearly covered with sand.

Back in Nags Head, we found a nice coffee shop that had a vegetarian sandwich lunch special, then spent the afternoon visiting the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kill Devil Hill, site of their 1902 and 1903 glider experiments and the 1903 first powered flights.  We hiked to the monument at the top of the hill just as the first drops of rain began to fall.  We drove in the rain the 100 km to Elizabeth City, checking in to our motel just before the fierce downpour started.

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Replica of the 1903 Wright Flyer at Kill Devil Hill, North Carolina.

On Saturday morning, we left early, braving the construction-confused traffic in Norfolk to finally find the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel (I-64) and on back to the 17th century for an exploration of the reconstructed 1608 Jamestown Settlement interpretive park and the nearby original Jamestowne Island, where the original colony is an active archaeological site,.  The dig is peeling back the layers of the settlement over the century it existed as first a not very successful charter company colony and later as capital of Virginia, until 1699, when it was abandoned to farmland.

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The Susan Constant (replica), one of three ships that brought colonists to Jamestown in 1607: 55 passengers, 14 crew. 144 days to cross the Atlantic via the Canary Islands and the Caribbean windward islands.

A quick turn through Williamsburg showed us why it had been difficult to get motel reservations–some sort of gathering was taking place in the historic district, so we backtracked 50 km to Newport News, where we had found an affordable motel.  Newport News was the site of one of my first visits to the East Coast, in 1968, when I participated in the U.S. Navy’s acceptance trials of the USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67), as a vendor technical representative for the computer systems that ran the Combat Information Center and automated aircraft landing systems.

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George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate. Tourists are assigned a time slot on arrival to line up for an orderly procession through the house.

Sunday morning, we headed back through Williamsburg and on to Mount Vernon, where we spent the day touring George Washington’s estate, the 18th-century farm he built into a profitable plantation and where he retired after his long military and political career.  We had decided by this time to forego a tour of the Washington, DC area: the traffic was overwhelming.  We headed up the beltway through Virginia to Frederick, MD, gradually becoming re-acquainted with the metropolitan commuter rules of the road in the congested East Coast:

  1. The minimum acceptable speed is 20-40km/hr over the posted speed, proportional to the number of lanes (2-6).  If you fail to adhere to this, the driver behind you is obligated to force you off the road, lest you continue to impede traffic flow.
  2. Rule 1 applies between interchanges: when approaching a major interchange or the site of a blocking mishap, traffic slows to zero, quite suddenly.  Changing lanes in other than an orderly group fashion is frowned upon, and may be vigorously prevented.
  3. The lane that you are in is probably not the one you need to be in to follow your planned route.  Rule 2 may affect your ability to reposition gracefully or even successfully.  Abandon hope if you miss your interchange–it may have been the only viable route to your destination.
  4.  At traffic flow speed, which may reach 125km/hr with less than 10 meter spacing between cars, lumpy road patches, deep horizontal and parallel grooves, and potholes may cause your vehicle to momentarily leave the roadway.  Be sure to be aimed in
    the general direction of your lane and be ready to accelerate or brake heavily when contact with the road resumes.
  5. Be sure to have at least a half tank of fuel and an empty bladder before venturing into traffic–frequent collisions and breakdowns may block traffic for hours.  Do not be tempted to exit the main roadway: there are no through secondary roads.  You must stay on the expressway to reach your destination.
  6. The term “freeway” is a public road, to which all of the above rules apply strictly.  An “expressway” connects major industrial and population centers with few or no opportunities to exit between.  A “thruway” is an expressway with tolls.  Be sure to stop at any service plazas provided on your route to pad your time, even if you don’t need fuel, food, or the necessary–if you stay in the traffic flow, you will be fined for speeding when you pay the toll at the exit, as the ticket records time as well as distance.
  7. Some bridges, tunnels, and thruways now cater only to electronic pass subscribers.  Watch for “No Cash” and “EZPass Only” signs and be ready to exit to an alternate route (which may be hours out of your way or dump you into a nest of car-strippers) or be fined for  non-payment of toll.
  8. Road signs at intersections are often obscure and often placed on the far side of the intersection.  A general rule is “if you can read the sign, you have missed your turn.”  If you do miss the turn, do not be tempted to exit at the next exit–chances are there is no alternate way to rejoin your route via local streets.  Continue on to a major intersection where U-turns are possible, reverse course, and try again.
  9. On local roads, traffic lights are suggestions–expect cars to continue through intersections at high speed for several seconds after the light turns red. Stopping on yellow may get you rammed from behind.  Make sure the cross traffic is stopped before proceeding on green, even though the car behind you is flashing his lights, honking his horn, and nudging your bumper, starting within milliseconds of the light changing, especially if you did not start rolling forward when the cross signal is yellow.
  10. When changing lanes, make sure no cars in the second lane over are aiming for the same spot.  If you can’t seem to find an opening in the desired lane, it is probably because the car pacing you in your target lane wants to get in your lane.  Watch for “jockeying” speed changes and make your move when chances of success are good.  Signaling isn’t always the best option, as others may aim aggressively for your space, expecting you to be gone when they get there.  Make your decision and do not hesitate.
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PA route 462 bridge across the Susquehanna River, between York and Lancaster, PA.

Somehow, we made it to our hotel (after some false turns due to GPS foibles and signage issues noted above).  The next morning, we found a FedEx office next to a Starbucks, near our planned path, and finally shipped our bicycle and camping gear home, then continued on to Gettysburg, PA, for a tour of the Civil War battlefield and cemetery.  Later that afternoon, we drove on back roads through the famous Amish country near Lancaster, PA, arriving at the Revolutionary War encampment at Valley Forge just before closing time.  We did drive through the park and on secondary highways north to Allentown for the night.  After more than a month on the road, staying at the more inexpensive motels, the one at Allentown was the only one that we found wanting in terms of cleanliness and perceived safety: very disappointing, as we generally read reviews before booking and this was one in a chain we frequent most in our travels.

Dingmans Falls from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

Our tour took us next through the Delaware Water Gap, the “Columbia Gorge” of the East Coast, where the Delaware River cuts through the mountains.  We stopped at a PA visitor center and the park headquarters, getting pointers on a quick tour of the best features, which paid off with a hike to Dingman’s Falls, the highest waterfall in Pennsylvania.  We had lunch at a bistro in Port Jervis, NY, then continued up the Upper Delaware.  At Hancock, we stopped at a coffee shop on the main street, but found it was closed until May.  While we were standing at the door, it opened, and the proprietors, two sisters, invited us in for coffee and a chat.  We got a tour of the place: they are renovating an old opera house into a coffee shop and dinner theater, a gradual process, with the women doing almost all the work themselves: one is the remodeler, the other the cook and baker.  What a delightful stop!

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Coiled bead rope, composed of millions of black beads, which look to be #8 size. Corning Museum of Glass.

Refreshed, we headed onto the main highway, NY 17/I-86 (future?) to Binghamton for the night, at a family-run hotel that occupies the former municipal building.  The young man who checked us in recommended a pub across the street, where we enjoyed a pint of  Guinness and veggie sandwich.  Early morning, we were off again, with a short drive to Ithaca for breakfast at a bagel/coffee shop near the Cornell University campus, then across to Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake and south to Corning for an afternoon at the Corning Glass Museum, watching demonstrations of glass blowing, fiber optics, and a gallery of 3500 years of glass artifacts from around the world, including  Tiffany lamps and windows and Frank Lloyd Wright windows as well as contemporary glass sculpture and art.

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Niagara Falls from Larye Parkins on Vimeo.

With the afternoon waning, we drove north to Niagara Falls, enduring yet another round of thruways, freeways, and toll bridges,  arriving near sunset for a quick look at the rapids above the falls in the evening chill and dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant.  In the morning, we walked downriver to overlook the falls, then a quick drive by the “closed for renovation” viewpoint between the Canadian (Horseshoe) and American Falls.

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Lake Erie, south shore NY/PA route 5, between Buffalo, NY and Erie, PA

Eschewing the freeway/tollway gambit, we drove on the old local roads through downtown Buffalo, NY, then along Lake Erie shore.  The route took us briefly through the notch of Pennsylvania that reaches Lake Erie, stopping in Erie city to have the oil changed on our rental car (it was due just then, and there was an Enterprise office near our route).  Veggie lunch at the local Co-op, and we were soon on the freeway into Ohio, stopping for the night in Mentor, just outside Cleveland, to end a very busy week of history and famous scenery.

Thus, we put a close to our East Coast tour as we headed into the Midwest and family visits before returning home, several months earlier than planned.  We’re a whole lot wiser about the practicality of extreme self-supported bicycle touring in our eighth decade, in unpredictable spring weather on poorly-maintained roads meant for cars only.

Expedition 2016, Week 3 (conclusion): the Auto Tour Begins, Walterboro, SC to Washington, NC

We picked up our rental car in Walterboro, SC, selecting a 3-door Hyundai with a hatchback and fold-down rear seats, ideal for transporting our bike and gear.  The rest of the morning was spent dismantling and packing the bicycle and transferring the camping gear and whatever bike gear wouldn’t fit in the cases to the big duffel.  One of the 30-year-old front panniers had been breached by a loading problem that allowed a portion to drag on the pavement in left turns, so it was left in the trash.  The other we kept, for now, with a few extra items.

We used the car to find a good Mexican Restaurant in town and espresso, at Dunkin Donuts, of all places.  I can’t recall having been in one since leaving Newport over 35 years ago, so ordered a French Cruller, those light, eggy “tractor wheel” donuts I used to get, “back in the day.”  They didn’t have espresso, then.  We also stopped at Walmart to add to our only set of street clothes and replace the small, worn duffel bag we had thrown away in Orlando after loading the bike panniers.  Unlike the fictional wandering scourge of bad guys, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher character, we did not throw out our old clothes, though at the cost of laundromats, it might be cheaper.  The laundry in Walterboro took a debit card, which cost $2 plus whatever value needed to wash clothes: another patron had an extra one, empty, so we gratefully accepted hers, reloaded it with enough to wash and dry a load ($5), and passed it on to yet another customer, with enough value left for 10 minutes dryer time.

DSCF1740The next morning, we set out toward Charleston, stopping by the Walterboro airport to visit the Tuskegee Airmen Memorial: this is where the famous group of African-American fighter pilots had their final training before entering combat in Europe.  With only the bicycle GPS, we got lost several times on the way to Charleston, and have since switched to using Judy’s iPhone mapping app.  We did set out on the road we would have ridden, US 17-A, and found it even more heavily trafficked and just as badly repaired as the many miles we had already ridden.  In the days since, we have daily reaffirmed our decision to abandon the bicycle tour: many of the roads we have traveled have been uncomfortable and dangerous even  in a car, due to poor repair, poor construction, and heavy traffic.

DSCF1810Arriving finally in Charleston, we headed across the Ravenel Bridge to Mount Pleasant, where we took a tour boat to Fort Sumter, the island fortress at the mouth of the harbor where the first shots were fired in the War Between the States (aka, the War of Northern Aggression [Confederacy] or the Civil War [Union].  The fort had been reduced to mostly rubble by both sides during the war 1861-1865 war, with a blocky “new” section added during the Spanish-American War of 1898.

DSCF1782With the advantage (or liability) of a car, we stayed 30 km outside the city, at Goose Creek, where low motel costs offset the cost of fuel to get there.  We found an excellent Mexican restaurant within walking distance (on a rough trail along the highway — no shoulder,  no walkway) and had black bean and portabello tacos.   The next day, we drove downtown and parked near the corner of Queen and King streets and took a horse-drawn carriage tour of part of the historical district, near the University of Charleston, one of three routes randomly chosen for the carriages.  Afterward, we had a vegetarian lunch at a middle-eastern restaurant near the market, where we learned this was their last week after 10 years, due to loss of lease.  In the afternoon, we took a walking tour to parts of the historic district we didn’t cover by carriage, then back to Goose Creek.

DSCF1868The next morning, wrapping up our third week on tour, we took the I-526 bypass to Mount Pleasant, then up US 17, covering in a day what would have taken a week of long rides on bad roads on the bicycle, something we would not have been capable of, due to our slow speed and the effects of too many days in the saddle fighting headwinds and rough roads.  We enjoyed a quick tour through the historic district of Georgetown, and were astonished at the 60-km commercial strip that is Myrtle Beach and its suburbs.  In the 43 years or so since I last visited what used to be a championship golf mecca (in my case, the venue for a business conference–selected by our golfing bosses), the Beach has been transformed.  The US 17 strip was filled with Disneyesque theme-park miniature golf courses in multiple versions of pirate, jungle, dinosaur, volcano, and other exotic themes, alternating with huge storefronts selling beachwear or surfing equipment, with a dozen or more pancake houses and scores of other restaurants, resorts, and hotels.

DSCF1889We soon crossed into North Carolina, stopping for lunch at a bistro in downtown Wilmington and coffee in Jacksonville before crossing the spectacular bridge at New Bern and turning north away from the coast to overnight at Chocowinity, just outside Washington, NC, deviating from our planned bicycle tour path to avoid the expensive auto ferry to the Outer Banks.

 

Expedition 2016, Week 3 (beginning): Hardeeville, SC – Walterboro, SC, Cycling Ends

DSCF1699The third week of our “Cycling Beyond 70” expedition begins with a steady drizzle.  It has been raining all night.  There is no breakfast service at our motel, and no restaurants nearby, except for a Subway in one of the two convenience stores nearby.  The motel proprietor told us there was a Dunkin Donuts on the other side of the freeway, but we aren’t going that way.  We eat what we purchased in the village of Hardeeville the day before and venture into the rain.

We discover that the rough roads yesterday have dislodged the trailer hitch, which is dangling loosely from the chain stay.  We tighten it under the motel lobby canopy, under the gaze of one of the elder members of the owner’s family, curious about our mode of transportation, no doubt wondering if this is a side of America he didn’t count on when he emigrated.  We bid him farewell and push off into the rainy morning.

The old road parallels Interstate 95, carrying tourists, snowbirds, and freight between Boston and Miami.  Our road is relatively traffic-free, but has enough local traffic to keep us on the side, where it was widened haphazardly in 1964 when the freeway was built and poorly maintained since, heavily grooved in both directions and sloppily patched here and there. We have decided to stop at the next town, Ridgeland, making a short day in the rain, 21 km, half the distance we came yesterday.  The road improves near town, but traffic builds, where large trucks grind to a crawl behind us until it is safe to pass.  There is no shoulder, of course, and the white line, which touches the grass, is ribbed with a rumble strip, so we ride in the lane. 

Ridgeland greets us with a row of derelict or defunct motels and eateries, but the center of town is still alive, with a grocery and other thriving businesses.  This time, the freeway interchange is less than a kilometer from the city center, and surrounded by businesses.  We finally get a hot meal, at the Waffle House across the street from our motel.  We order off the placemat “favorites,” unaware that there is a full menu available.  Waffle House is such a fixture in the South that no one else needs a menu, and the staff expects you to know your order without looking.  Our waitress is amazed that we come from a place where there are no Waffle Houses.  As usual, it is necessary to order ala carte to leave out the meats.

The rain has subsided, but it is windy (a headwind, of course), and cold.  Too early for normal check-in, we wait in the warm lobby for our room to be ready, then shower and nap until dinner time, which is a trip back to the Waffle House, then to the grocery behind (a town with two groceries–unheard of), and to the pharmacy next door for protein bars, our staple meal choice on the road, along with our jar of peanut butter.

Headwinds are forecast for Saturday as well, so we head out early, back into town and north, where the old highway merges with the freeway and we turn onto a frontage road, which is actually adequately paved–until we reach the gravel pit at the top of the next rise, where heavy trucks have hammered it into the same broken ruts we have been riding since Savannah.  We meet a fellow traveler, a homeless person of indeterminate gender and age, who turns out to be a 60-year-old woman pedaling a bike with an enormous backpack and various other bike bags and buckets.  She carefully examines our trailer setup (two stacked suitcases on wheels attached to the bike with a short hydraulic hose).  We move on. eventually coming to a pair of gas stations where we indulge in a bottle of Gatorade and use the rest rooms, which have no towels and a printed set of directions on how to find the light switches, which are down the hall on the hinge side of the doors.

A looping climb to an overpass takes us over the freeway and onto another rough road widened ages ago by covering the old road, including curb and sidewalk, with new asphalt, with the usual drainage and settling issues that make it unsafe even for trucks.  After working hard against the cold north wind for several hours, we come at last to the only restaurant for many miles, a Denny’s attached to a Best Western, having passed a number of defunct motels and footprints of long-disappeared eateries.  Denny’s is packed with locals and freeway travelers.  We wait for a table, then wait some more while the staff regroups from the rush, shivering in our wet bicycle clothes.  Finally, we are served approximately what we thought we ordered, wolf it down, and push off into the wind once more.

DSCF1705Despite the four-lane strip in front of Denny’s, there is no real town of South Point, and the shoulder runs out near a church where a funeral is being held for a prominent citizen, so cars are parked along the highway in both directions.  A bit farther on, the highway divides: we turn left onto the old highway again.  grinding away for more kilometers and up a long hill, past children guffawing at the strange apparition of old white folks on a funny bicycle towing suitcases, then turn toward the freeway once more.  It turns out that Yamassee, South Carolina is not so much a town, but a collection of neighborhoods.  At various times, we pass an auto repair, a decrepit thrift shop, the Family Dollar and Dollar General stores that serve as general stores and groceries for the rural south, and finally, under the freeway to our motel, a former Super 8, now a Rodeway, with the faded yellow ‘8’ still visible on the sign.  The desk clerk writes out the WiFi password in flowing Hindi script, spells it for us in English, but it doesn’t work, despite her insistence that is what it is.  We get sporadic connections to a Comcast xfinitywifi hotspot somewhere nearby, perhaps at one of the three convenience stores across the highway.  Some advertise “dairy,” which consists of a frozen yogurt counter or ice cream bars in a freezer.  There is a Subway in one of them, also.  We retreat to our room, eat peanut butter from our stash, nap, then sleep.

DSCF1714Sunday morning, we drop the key in the key box, then notice we have a flat trailer tire.  We find a leak and patch it with one of the cheap patches that came with the tire tools, of dubious merit, then wait for the Subway to open, wolfing down one of their pre-cooked egg sandwiches before heading off into the cold north wind.  A circuitous route through a neighborhood, where the Deliverance church offers 9:00 am Sunday services, but it is after 9:30 and the building is empty and silent.  Maybe they have been Delivered, or maybe people in this non-town have lost hope.  We finally emerge on the old highway and grind away past the swamps.  We pass up one small grocery at the first intersection we come to, pushing up the hill and continuing on.  At the outskirts of the next “town” on our map, we find Jim’s Grocery, a small concrete block building at a crossroad.  Jim is a retired state trooper and keeps an eye on the restless young men who frequent the store.  He says the town is just past the school where his wife works.  So it is, but “town” is a church and a few houses,  situated on a high spot of ground.

DSCF1733We pass a group of homeless persons on bikes, camped at a ball field near a more-prosperous-looking church.  Church is just letting out, so we have a flurry of  traffic overtaking us ahead, as the terrain becomes more hilly and homes become horse ranches and estates.  We reach the outskirts of Walterboro to note our trailer tire is going low again.  We pump it up and continue on, meeting a young man on a bicycle and chatting a bit as we both push our bikes uphill into town on a busy road with a curb, no shoulder, and busy traffic.

In town, the main street is being repaved, down to one narrow lane, which we share with cars and trucks, dodging around construction barriers placed around the drain grates, then pulling into driveways to let cars pass.  Walterboro is hilly: we make a left turn, again toward the freeway, and push on the sidewalk up a long hill before riding through the freeway interchange to our motel.

DSCF1736We have discussed this, before and during our trip, that we will have mission checkpoints that depend on our abilities and the conditions to continue:  The road ahead, through Charleston, has some long days between towns, and more old, no-shoulder roads with heavy traffic.  The last few days, we have battled rain, headwinds, and heavy traffic on increasingly bad roads, making, at most, 40 km, sometimes half that.  The path ahead has some 60 km days, then up to 80 km.  We have arrived at the end of our daily rides exhausted and hungry, with few places to eat.  Walterboro is big enough to have car rental agencies, so the die is cast–we will continue our East Coast Expedition, but on a more equal footing with the traffic and distances, by rental car.

Since leaving Orlando, we have pedaled nearly 600 km (370 miles).  We’ve had some good days with great scenery, and some bad days, with a lot of pain, struggle, and poor accommodations.  We’ve met interesting people, and been met with the indifference to outsiders that comes inevitably around freeway service stops in poor rural areas.  We’ve tried to be cautious and flexible, as when we elected to bypass stormy weather and dangerous roads by self-sagging between Folkston and Savannah via U-Haul truck, an expensive but necessary solution.  We have committed to a three-week car rental, that will take us through the most important points on the East Coast  on our “must-see” checklist, then cross-country to the midwest to visit relatives before returning home early, where we will ride again, on our beloved rail trails and quiet byways in the Pacific Northwest and Rocky Mountain West, in a manner befitting our station as senior cyclists.

To be continued…

Expedition 2016, Week 2: St. Augustine – Hardeeville, SC

St. Augustine, Florida, is the oldest city in the United States, established 450 years ago, in 1565.  We planned to spend a day exploring the old city on foot before continuing north by bicycle.  An early morning stroll through the city gates and down St. George was pleasant with few others to block the view.

DSCF1579The highlight of the day was a tour of Castillo de San Marcos, the massive star fortress that protected the city from invasion under four different regimes:  built by the Spanish, it was ceded to the British, and became part of the United States and, briefly, the Confederate States.  The fort is now a National Monument and is in a continual state of refurbishment and upkeep.  I had foolishly left my Senior lifetime pass in our car, which is parked in our driveway in Shelton, so Judy finally got her own pass.

DSCF1585St. Augustine also figures into the history of the Florida Keys, which we toured by bicycle five years ago. We learned then of the legacy of Henry Flagler, who built the Ponce de Leon Hotel, now part of Flagler College, opening up Florida to tourism, which he expanded by building the overseas railway to Key West.

Early the next morning, we pushed and cycled over the bridge to the
barrier islands, taking the inland waterway side along the Halifax River, then finally out to the Atlantic shore at Flagler Beach, where we stayed at a small, somewhat dilapidated beachfront motel after a short battle against a strong headwind.  The next day, wind off our right quarter pushed us north.  In the afternoon, we got a respite from the highway traffic, following the road past the beach resorts, condos, and estates, effectively blocking view of the ocean for the remainder of the Florida coast.  At Jacksonville Beach, we joined the traffic briefly to grab coffee, then less busy roads west to Neptune Beach and a chain motel, for which we happen to have discount points.

DSCF1611Out again into a chilly morning and a brisk headwind, we pedaled north past the Mayport Naval Station, where I had visited on business twice in the late 1960s, once to catch a Navy shuttle flight to an aircraft carrier at sea.  After a brief wait, we boarded the St. John’s River ferry for the short crossing.  We bought a week’s supply of fresh roasted peanuts from a roadside vendor, then pedaled across the bridge to the Talbot Islands, where we discovered a paved bicycle trail that took us away from traffic for several kilometers.  Across the bridge to Amelia Island, there was another trail, that took us all the way into Fernandina Beach.

We stayed at an AirBnB in Fernandina Beach, affordable in the pricey resort area, as it was a fold-out sofa in a screened porch, but ideal for touring cyclists.  The next morning, we cycled downtown for breakfast at the coffee shop, prompting visits with the locals curious about our expedition.  A bit late, we finally broke away and cycled back streets to as close to the FL 200 bridge as we could get before joining the 4-lane highway traffic.

DSCF1626Once over the bridge, we found ourselves quickly in Yulee, and in the middle of road construction.  After a mile or so of “sharing the road” with a merged single lane of heavy car and truck traffic wedged between Jersey barriers, we turned off and talked to a few locals about the construction.  Checking our maps, we decided to abandon the Adventure Cycling route once again and head for Kingsland, Georgia, up US 17, which had been our original plan, anyway.  Arriving in Kingsland, hungry and tired, we headed east to I-95, where all the motels are located, checked in, and walked back under the freeway to a hot meal.

The next morning, we caught breakfast at a Waffle House, the ubiquitous breakfast place in the South, then west on GA 40 (no shoulder, heavy truck traffic) to Folkston, which was on the Adventure Cycling map.  Again, we arrived hungry and tired to find that the motel WiFi wasn’t working, and the breakfast/lunch café up the street was just closing.  We bought a few groceries and ordered a take-out pizza at the Pizza Hut kitchen next door to the grocery.  We ate our pizza on the smoker’s bench outside the Family Dollar store and retired for the evening, with rain forecast for evening and the next day.

At this  point, we decided that it was too dangerous to ride on the highways in the rain, with traffic and no shelter from predicted thunderstorms, so we spent a frustrating several hours on the phone arranging a rental truck to ferry us to Savannah.  We ended up with a 20-foot truck, the only one available locally.  The next morning, we rode 5 km north in light rain, after breakfast at the café up the street.  While waiting for the U-Haul agency to open, we took shelter from the heavy downpour under the canopy for the storage units on the property.  We finished the paperwork and loaded our bike and trailer in the cavernous truck and headed north.  Our choice became more and more confirmed as we proceeded along the route we would have cycled, busier roads with no shoulder or shoulder-wide rumble strips.

We refueled, bringing the rental cost up to nearly $250, about what we would have spent riding four days to arrive at the same place.  The 10 km from the U-Haul agency in Savannah to our motel in Garden City was an adventure, with an industrial road full of trucks and many rough railroad crossings bracketed on either end by busy 4-lane roads with no shoulders.

But, we had a nice room, and a shuttle to the historic district tour trolleys in the morning.  After a full day exploring Savannah’s historic district and lunch at a downtown coffee shop, we returned to the hotel for a light meal foraged at a nearby grocery.

DSCF1679With threat of rain (which didn’t materialize), we planned a short day, riding north through the container port district, among the trucks, and across the Savannah National Wildlife Refuge (known on the South Carolina side as “Alligator Alley”).  A short run on the shoulder-less 4-lane US17, we turned off on SC 170 east, then north to Hardeeville for a grocery stop and then northeast to the freeway interchange, where there are only motels and convenience stores.  For the past week, lunch has been nuts and snacks from convenience stores and supper largely from the produce and deli section of neighborhood groceries, with a few coffee shops and restaurants for “normal” meals.

DSCF1689So, after two weeks on the road, with various misadventures, we have logged 500 km (310 miles)  on the bicycle, bringing the 2016 total to almost exactly our 2015 total, 541 km.

Expedition 2016, Week 1: Orlando to St. Augustine

DSCF1457After a week of visiting the Disney parks, courtesy of our niece’s family, all of whom work there in procurement, product design, or restaurateuring, and putting our bike together, we started our tour at last. In midweek, we did make a 25-km test run with the bike, sans trailer, to pick up some supplies. Within about 5 km, we nearly ended our tour before it started, discovering that Florida drivers don’t honor walk signals: we were in the process of pushing off in the pedestrian crosswalk when a white van cut in front of us at high speed. In the ensuing collision-avoidance maneuver, we ended up in a gear-up stop, crashing over to the right. Judy managed to brace herself and escaped unscathed (unlike the last time, that resulted in a concussion), but I caught my heel under the frame. It is still bandaged, but doesn’t interfere with riding.

As a result of our close encounter, we decided to be pedestrians when crossing streets, for better view of traffic. And, we could also separate so at least one of us might survive the crossing. So, when we did start out on our journey, getting out of the city was a slow ordeal of dismounting and walking the heavy (nearly 100kg) rig across intersections. We, of course, rode on the sometimes uneven and narrow sidewalks because the 4-lane high-speed roads had no shoulders and high curbs.

We also discovered that we had chosen a path that traversed what amounts to the central Florida mountain range, a series of low but sometimes steep hills that rise nearly 60 meters above sea level. We looked forward in anticipation to the Apopka Loop Trail, a hiking and biking trail that extends 15 km along the north shore of Lake Apopka. However, once on the trail, we discovered it was:

1) Rough, partially-solidified crushed limestone or packed gravel that kept us in the lowest gear for the entire 15 km.

2) Infested with large alligators, one of which was actually on the side of the trail but fled when we approached. We saw many, and heard the grunting mating calls of dozens more along the trail.

3) Nearly without shade, in the oppressive 30C heat and humidity.

DSCF1469So it went. When we finally emerged on a spur road, with 10 km yet to go, we called our Warm Showers host, Mike, to update him on our late arrival. He graciously offered to come pick up our 50 kg trailer to lighten our load. We pressed on, but slower and slower. Soon, the sun set and it began to rain. We were pushing the bike through sand around a bend in the road when a kind couple in a pickup truck stopped and offered to deliver us the last 4 km, which we gratefully accepted, guiding them to our host’s home with Judy’s cell phone, since our GPS batter had run down just before it started to rain, having lead us for the past 12 hours. So, we finished the first day with a GPS track of 67 km, but only rode 63 km., actually the longest distance we have ridden in a day in nearly 3 years.

Mike and Lucia, our hosts, offered to keep us for a second night, to wait out the thunderstorms that lasted until noon on Saturday. As it continued to rain off and on, we did venture out with them for a tour of the delightful town of Mt. Dora, named for the prominant hill above the town center, a hill we traversed three times before we finally headed to our next waypoint on Sunday morning. Sunday traffic was busy along SR 44 to Deland, but there was a new Publix market about halfway, to serve the growing golf community in that area. We also found a small drive-up restaurant in the village of Pine Ridge.

DSCF1477Again, the heat wore us down, and we stopped at every piece of shade along the road until we crossed the St. John River. We stopped at the park beside the bridge for a while, chatting with locals about our trip, before pressing on the last 5 km or so to our Warm Showers host, Dave, who was waiting for us with ice water and the very welcome warm shower. We slept that night in his motor home, after visiting with him and his wife Paula, also a quilter and a nurse, and their two teen-age sons, Jeremy and Josh, along with their three cats and large German Shepherd.

In the morning, Dave fed us enormous quantities of scrambled eggs, and he and I made a run to the local bike shop for needed supplies before we set out, with recommended directions, toward Ormond Beach. On the way, we stopped at a UPS Store and shipped 4 kg of extra clothing home, at exorbitant expense, but items we wanted to keep and were fairly new. Finally, we got most of our gear inside the trailer instead of stacked on top under the cargo net. The route out of town, on SR 11, was beautiful, with a wide shoulder. There was a lakeside park not far from SR 40, where we stopped for a rest and a snack.  We were already tired from the heat and struggling to push on,  having skipped our morning coffee.  A motorcyclist, Bob, and his wife stopped to chat and offered us a cold Diet Coke, which took care of the caffeine deficiency, and we continued on, though stopping frequently along busy SR 40 where tall trees provided a bit of shade.  The small settlement of Pine Ridge offered a take-out restaurant for lunch and conversation with locals before struggling on toward Ormand Beach, with many stops to rest from the heat.  Finally, we spotted a 7-11 convenience store ahead, only a short way from our destination, but a needed stop for juice and nuts to bolster us to handle the city traffic to get to our hotel, across the Interstate.  Dinner at Denny’s next door and a trip to Publix across the street prepared us for a quiet evening.

The next morning, we had the usual motel breakfast of yogurt and cold cereal, then stopped at Panera’s for coffee.  Judy had to instruct the barista on how to make an Americano (equal parts espresso and hot water).  Apparently they only ever serve lattes and other blended drinks.  The coffee delay got us started late, pushed a bit later by the disappearance of the bike lane in the older part of the city, putting us back on the sidewalk until the high bridge over the Halifax River, which we pushed up, in the bike lane, but stopping to chat with pedestrians over the walkway barrier.

DSCF1513Finally, a high-speed dive down the other side of the bridge and a one last walk across the light for a left turn onto John Anderson Drive, which followed the river past expensive waterfront homes for nearly 15 km.  Arriving at the High Bridge Road, we stopped at the boat ramp bait shop for a Gatorade and chat with a ‘bent trike-rider before pedaling over the dunes to finally reach the Atlantic Ocean.  The ride along the river was relatively free of wind, but now the full force of the relentless coastal wind made us struggle again the last few kilometers. We stopped for lunch at a beach-side restaurant that served only meat-based meals.  Protein-starved, I ordered a turkey sandwich and ate half, saving the other half for both of us to share for dinner.  Finally we arrived at our beach-front motel, a small, 10-unit mom-‘n-pop establishment, with peeling paint, torn screens, holes in the doors, and broken fixtures, but clean, with a comfortable bed and the surf across the road.

In the morning, we started out as the sun rose over the ocean, to find the wind had shifted to just off our right shoulders.  A short way up the beach we found a great breakfast café, then were off again with the wind for the first time on our tour.  We made it all the way to St. Augustine Beach by lunch time, stopping at the Wildflower Cafe, then on to St. Augustine, with a brief detour to the lighthouse, then passing the slow auto traffic between the parked cars and the traffic flow, until we reached the Bridge of the Lions, where we dismounted and walked the bike over the narrow pedestrian walkway, creating a small traffic jam of our own when meeting baby strollers and other bicycles.  Once over the bridge, we joined the flow on A1A, mindful that “Share the Road” means sprinting to keep moving in front of large trucks too big to pass in the two-way flow, and pulling over in no-parking zones.  And, so we survived the first week of bike travel, logging 259km (160 miles), not counting the 25km test run (or discounting the 4km sag lift).

DSCF1543Fortunately, our motel was close to downtown, so our day off was an easy walk to all the major tourist attractions, which we ignored, 1820enjoying the architecture and the Castillo before grabbing a light lunch at the Spanish Bakery (salad and turnovers).  For a change, we had dinner out, at the City Bistro and Coffee Shop across the street where we had breakfast.  It turned out that Thursday night was live music night at the Bistro, with Joe Mark, a singer-songwriter who also remembered the ’60s.  Then, back to the motel to pack for an early start to another week “on the road.”

Musings on Unix, Bicycling, Quilting, Weaving, Old Houses, and other diversions

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