Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Day 55, April 29: High Springs to Palatka, FL

0 of 73 miles—SAG driver

The first half of the mileage was through pleasant farmland with wildflowers galore.

The second half was on a busy highway with either no shoulder or a shoulder strewn with debris. And a stiff headwind. It was the last long ride of the trip.

Many family members and friends have started to arrive in anticipation of the big day tomorrow.

We have had nicknames for many of the riding groups such as the Big Dogs and the Three Musketeers. There are various other groupings such as Team New England comprised of Robin, Nancy, Peggy, me, and Elisabeth.

Day 54, April 28: Perry to High Springs, FL

44 of 76 miles

My sore back hit the wall at about 30 miles, and I limped into the second SAG stop at mile 44. I drive SAG tomorrow, which should give me some recovery time so I can complete the last day of riding into St. Augustine. The roads today were lined with masses of Sweet William wildflowers—gorgeous.

We are in Florida spring country and several people took the opportunity to swim at the beautiful Ichetucknee Springs.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Day 53, April 27: Wakulla Springs to Perry, FL

53 of 53 miles

Today the ride was more of the same: flat, straight, lined with tall pines, with the addition of pesky headwinds. The 53 miles seemed like 103. I hurt my back yesterday not in jumping off the high dive but in diving off the low platform. Of all things, after all these miles across the country. Thankfully, the finish line is within view, on Thursday.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Day 52, April 25: Wakulla Springs, FL

Rest Day

This was the perfect rest day. This morning I took a boat ride that explores to about three miles downstream from the actual spring. It was teeming with birds, alligators, and other wildlife and the boat pilot did a lively and entertaining presentation. The spring is the deepest in the United States and the third or fourth deepest in the world.


Yellow-crowned night heron

Two Tarzan movies were filmed here, as well as The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Location of the Tarzan movies

The highlight of the day was the jump off the high dive. Laurey, Marci, and I were the brave souls. I managed six jumps before I tired of climbing the stairs to the top.

Laurey, Carol, and Marci

Day 51, April 25: Quincy to Wakulla Springs, FL

39 of 39 miles

Not much of interest to report about the ride itself. It was a short mileage day heading into our last rest day. Flat, straight roads with tall pine on both sides. However, the destination, Wakulla Springs State Park, is a gem. A kind and patient woman agreed to take pictures of our group with each of our cameras.

Carol, Donna, Peggy, Marni, Mary Jo, Elisabeth, Marilyn

The Lodge was built by financier Edward Ball in the 1930’s on land surrounding a natural spring. His philosophy from the beginning was to preserve the spring in as natural a state as possible and the philosophy still holds. The Lodge itself has been beautifully preserved, particularly the common rooms.

Of particular note is the ceiling, fabricated from heart cypress, or cypress that has been immersed in water or 50 years or longer making it impervious to rot. The ceiling was originally planned to be plain cypress. However, shortly after completion of the Lodge, Ball was approached by a German man who proposed painting “nice designs” on the ceiling. It was later revealed that Mr. Piplack was the last court painter for Kaiser Wilhelm. The painted scenes combine European folk art, and Native American and local wildlife scenes.

A massive fireplace is the focal point of the lobby. It is constructed of cement, poured on site, to simulate real stonework.

It is a tradition from previous years’ trips that there be a Talent, uh, Variety Show during the last rest layover. Tonight was the big night. Almost everyone managed to come up with some manner of performance. Peggy and Elisabeth performed mostly original lyrics to the tune of “My Favorite Things”.

Peggy, Elisabeth, Chef Linda, Lois

Recently Laurey petitioned the SAG drivers to be designated an “honorary SAG” as she helps with dish duty most nights. The SAG drivers deliberated for several days, mostly to keep Laurey in a high state of anticipation, but also to give Ann an opportunity to find an appropriate tiara at a Dollar General. Ann also found another road-trash teal necklace, which nicely matches Laurey’s toe polish.

I dearly missed Michelle for my performance, as she is a wonderful guitar player and I could have used the accompaniment. Here is my piece:

I Got the SAG Drivin’ Blues

SAG drivin’ is my retirement gig
And Little Bo Peep’s my official rig
Gassed up, stocked full, but the flock bemoans
Same ‘ole stuff, please stop the cheetos and candy cones.

Then there’s Ann, the OCD SAG driver from hell
Makes every last one wash thoroughly with Purell
Before they touch a scoop or the water jug nozzle
Those hands damn better be antiseptically sterile.

Fillin’ the jugs a real pain in the butt
End of day, SAGGY’s tired, and in a real huff
Out of nowhere Dave from Dallas materializes
Wants to help with the ice and SAGGY realizes
This is not all bad, it will lighten the load
Sherri helps me dump Dave before I implode.

I got the SAG drivin’ blues.

Micturation moment or prophylactic pee
Full bladder on the saddle, quite painful, don’t ‘cha see
What will the SAGGY come up with today
Flush toilets, big trees, many options to weigh.

Sorry to say, scrub brush and grass all I see
Not perfect conditions to take that PP
Truckers rumblin’ their rigs and havin’ some fun
As our big, white bottoms flash in the sun.

I got the SAG drivin’ blues.

Oversee the whole flock, what a SAG driver’s for
High winds, tornado warnings, unleashed dogs galore
Despite good intentions and safe miles ridden
Bumps, bruises, and road rash are daily a given.

Track crossings are tricky takin’ two riders down
Fifty mile crosswinds send Donna airborne
Elisabeth’s light bike and weight like a feather
Make her a casualty in such horrible weather.

Laurey decides to discard her arm warmers
While riding full speed down a hill, she’s a charmer
An intimate encounter with handlebars and gravel
Michael rescues, bike mends, a short break from travel.

We pick ‘em up, douse their wounds with good stuff
And send ‘em back out ‘cause they ain’t had enough
At the end of the day we recount all the trials
Each telling, the stories, they become oh so wild.

I got the SAG drivin’ blues.

Hallucinatin’ all mornin’ ‘bout crawfish etoufee
Bring on Mama Jack’s, if I don’t say
Dyin’ for more crawfish, but I’m not gonna sin
Goin’ back down the road to look for Marilyn.

She’s takin’ photos of old buildings, gettin’ chased by dogs
Or listenin’ to the chirps of the big bull frogs
Gotta get to dinner, pedal fast as she’s able
Chef Linda’s got the goods waitin’ on the table.

My SAG drivin’ days are comin’ to a quick end
Goodness gracious, it’s just around the next bend
The flock will soon scatter to all corners of the country
Where individually we’ll attempt to make a re-entry.

I got the SAG drivin’ blues, oh yeah
I got the SAG drivin’ blues.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day 50, April 24: Marianna to Quincy, FL

0 of 54 miles—SAG driver

The day began innocuously enough. All, you read it here, ALL of the riders were ready to go at 7:30. There was a short delay due to foggy conditions and the troops were getting restless. Finally, the ALL CLEAR was given at 7:45 at which time Marilyn, who was ready to go and has never, I repeat NEVER, made it out within a half hour of the rest of the group, discovered she didn’t have her flashing rear reflector on her bike. Now, normally, this would not be a problem as her luggage is always the last to load. However, as luck would have it, today her luggage was intermingled with everyone else’s. Those of us waiting for the clean getaway were clearly crestfallen. We convinced Marilyn that there was very little fog and that it would clear completely within minutes (it did), and she was on her way.

I merrily set up my SAG stop at 18 miles thinking the day was going along just peachily. On the way to SAG #2 at around 40 miles, the call came in from Command Central. REALLY Command Central; that is, Rochester, NY. Jennifer from WomanTours was contacted by a woman whose boyfriend was biking our route this morning and bitten by one of three chasing dogs. The woman happened to have spoken with some of our riders at the hotel last night and had previously done a Womantours trip, so she knew how to contact WT. Once her boyfriend was cared for, she called the WT office to alert them. Jennifer had a precise description of the location of the quasi-abandoned house and the dogs. Meanwhile, Carol, our trip leader, made her way to the house and determined that the biting dog had been taken away by Animal Control and the owner had agreed to keep the other two dogs inside for a couple of hours to allow our riders to pass through.

I set up shop just west of the “crime scene” to give the riders a heads up. Being the South, you just know that the remaining two dogs would be unleased, once again, as soon as Animal Control left the premises. They were. However, all riders made it through without major incident except Marilyn. Despite my best efforts, I was unable to locate Marilyn for about three hours and, therefore, she was unwarned about said dogs despite two cell phone messages. When she stopped to take a photo of the “interesting old house”, the dogs barked, chased, and scared the bejesus out of her.

Only one more SAG drivin’ day—I wonder what new surprises and wonders await!

Day 49, April 23: Crestview to Marianna, FL

101 of 93 miles

My first century! When the chance for a century evaporated on the wind tunnel route to Del Rio, Texas, I decided that, if conditions were right, I would lengthen a future ride to achieve a century. With today’s route a planned 93 miles, it was the perfect opportunity.

The group left the hotel parking lot at 6:45 am in an attempt to get in some precious miles before the heat became oppressive. By 9 am it was hot, and then it got MORE HOT. Pick your pleasure: rain, wind, tornado, heat—as Gilda used to say, “It’s always something.”. I took a food break at 60 miles to ease the various sore points (hands, knees, feet, butt) and, when I got to 80, I knew I could make it. Jan Bee had agreed to keep me company. Jan is a veteran of a century or two or three and is the elder statesperson of the trip at 70. We cooled off in the hotel’s AC for a moment or two before heading out for the final eight miles. Thanks, Jan!

There was a cheering party gathered for us at the end—one of our traditions.

The Proof!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Day 48, April 22: Pensacola to Crestview, FL

56 of 56 miles

There are, indeed, some hills in Florida. They were not big hills, mind you, but they did require a modicum of exertion. The most noteworthy part of the ride was a 6.5-mile bike path teeming with bird life and smelling sweetly of honeysuckle. I saw dozens of cardinals and a couple of bluebirds.

Much of the ride was through farmland where we came across these self-described “habberknockers.” I have no idea what this means so I hope it’s not offensive. They were hunting turkeys and repairing the fence around “the little woman’s garden.”

We also came along this aptly-named lane.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Day 47, April 21: Dauphin Island, AL to Pensacola, FL

70 of 70 miles

A three-mile ride this morning brought us to the ferry connecting Dauphin Island with the east side of Mobile Bay. It was a pleasant 30-minute trip in perfect weather.

The next almost 40 miles were along barrier beaches with nice views of the Gulf and tidal marshes. Toward the end of this stretch, we crossed into Florida, the eighth state of the trip and the last state crossing. In light of my full disclosure policy, there was a pretty darn good tailwind today. Yes, you read correctly, a TAILWIND. What a difference it makes!

We passed through the heart of Pensacola, a town where the military presence is virtually everywhere, on the way to our hotel. This is Mary Jo, whose son was a Marine.

Day 46, April 20: Dauphin Island, AL

13 of 13 miles—Rest day

This was the most restful of our off days thus far. We had an early arrival yesterday that facilitated completion of the mundane, albeit necessary, tasks—laundry and bike cleaning, while allowing for some catch-up sleep.

Five of us visited the Audubon bird sanctuary this morning—we had a grand time. Ann and Peggy are accomplished birders and helped us identify both a male and female summer tanager. There was also a large blue heron specimen staring watchfully over a pond while several turtles basked in the sun.

Jan, Marilyn, Carol, and Ann

Indigo plants dotted the sides of the trails.

We are staying on a tiny barrier island connected to the mainland by a graceful arching bridge. The beach sand is pure white and as fine as I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, natural gas platforms dot the horizon offshore—a shame.

What would a trip be without the requisite sunset over water photo? This one will have to do.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Day 45, April 19: Pascagoula, MA to Dauphin Island, AL

0 of 42 miles—SAG driver

This was a rolling rest day heading into a rest day and, by far, the easiest day of my SAG driving career. A large weather system has threatened the region. Once again, we beat the odds and didn’t get a drop of rain. The trip leaders have dubbed this year’s ST ride as the “windy one”. I believe we would all affirm the correctness of that evaluation.

In yet another slow news day, crossing a state line might be the big event of the day.

Most riders stopped at Barnacle Bill’s for lunch, located on the island side of a long and high bridge connecting the mainland to Dauphin Island. We were in our Gulf-frontage condos by early afternoon just as the thick cloud cover began to clear. It will be a great spot for the rest day tomorrow.

It’s margarita night, prepared by trip leader Carol, due to the state line crossing.

Chef Linda prepared a tasty jambalaya.

Lois, sous chef and rider, sported yet another gorgeous necklace found by Ann on the highway shoulder.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Day 44, April 18: Wiggins to Pascagoula, MS

68 of 68 miles

A weather front with high winds and heavy rain was predicted to move through starting this afternoon, so we were on the road by 7 am in an attempt to beat it. We did get the wind, a headwind, of course. However, as of 10 pm, still no rain and the sky is clear with some spotty clouds. I don’t think we will be as fortunate tomorrow.

Today was another “dog day”. There were many, many barking dogs along the route, all behind fences or otherwise restrained, with one exception. That was the seven medium-sized mutts who raced out to circle Mary Jo, Donna, and me. I did the guttural “NO”, while MJ and Donna tried the loud whistle approach. Donna had one dog nipping at her ankles, but I managed to keep them at bay with my loud command.

We had a long and high bridge crossing the port as we entered Pascagoula. We battled high winds as we glanced at the white-capped river far below.

It’s been kind of a slow news day without much excitement, and I didn’t take my camera along for the ride due to the predicted storm. Therefore, my sole picture of the day is of Sherry helping with dish duty tonight. It is the responsibility of the SAG drivers to do the dishes, but many of the women have chipped in to help as we’re all exhausted at the end of the day. The SAG drivers truly appreciate their help. Tonight Sherry was sporting one of the “gems” that Ann, one of the SAG drivers, routinely picks up from the pavement on her rides, a lovely faux pearl necklace. Ann is very discriminating in the items that she chooses to retrieve. Her necklace collection adorns the necks of many of our riders and she has picked up many other useful items such as a 2 x 4 and a piece of rubber tire, which help to balance the water jugs in the back of the SAG wagon.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Day 43, April 17: Bogalusa, LA to Wiggins, MS

61 of 61 miles

Within the first few miles this morning, we were in Mississippi. There are many things one might say about Mississippi, and two of those are that it has a LOT of Baptist churches and a LOT of unsecured dogs. At our cue sheet meeting last evening, two route options were offered: a shorter route that, for 25 miles, follows a busy highway frequented by wood chip trucks, or a route longer by 10 miles that meanders through country roads where dogs bit a rider or two on the ST trip last year. Hummm, wood chips flying at my head or dogs’ teeth chomping at my ankles. A tough decision.

I voted to go with the dogs, figuring that I could muster up that loud, guttural “NO”, as recommended and demonstrated by Chef Linda, to stop the beasts dead in their tracks. I also rode in a group of five, hoping for safety in numbers. After all the hype about potential dog problems, there was only one who did pose a threat. This dog seemingly came out of nowhere, going right for my left leg. I let out the aforementioned “NO” in my most intimidating voice. The dog suspended for a moment in mid-air, landed on the asphalt in full belly-flop position, and slid several feet before stopping. The dog looked completely shocked and befuddled, and likely has a severe abdominal road rash as a reward for its crass behavior.

The terrain changed from the predominantly flat of Louisiana to some gently rolling hills as we got further into Mississippi. We passed a couple of beautifully manicured horse farms, and even a llama ranch where we saw this mom with her young'un.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Day 42, April 16: Hammond to Bogalusa, LA

58 of 58 miles

The route passed by the Global Wildlife Center, a 900-acre park that features grazing animals. A few of us hitched a ride in with a staff person, bikes included, but we were unable to secure admission as it was school vacation week and the facility was packed with every manner of excited children. I did manage to get quite a shock when I got too close to the electrical fence to take a photo. The fences are electrified not to keep the park’s animals in but, rather, to keep the coyotes out.

The only other “highlight” of the day was passing by the Uneedus Superdome.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Day 41, April 15: St. Francisville to Hammond, LA

0 of 87 miles—SAG driver

Since I didn’t ride my bike today and the scenery was rather sketchy, it might be a good time to venture into discussion of the responsibilities that consume the time and thoughts of the SAG driver.

Example one, finding a perfect SAG stop. Now, some might think this to be a rather trivial detail. However, there are many things to consider. First and foremost, is there a place to relieve one self, preferably a public restroom, but a large tree will do? Can the riders easily see the SAG wagon? Are there menacing dogs about or fire ant mounds to wander into? Is the site scenic or does it have any other redeeming features? Is the mileage location close to the expectations of the riders?

I’m here to report that I failed on virtually all measures for my first SAG stop today. I parked the wagon on what appeared to be a quiet dirt road in front of a volunteer fire department. What I didn’t realize was that the dirt road led to the local gravel and sand pit with huge trucks going in and out at an alarming rate and speed. It also happened to be immediately adjacent to a very large Louisiana State penitentiary. And, to top it off, there were no obvious micturation spots other than between the passenger and rear car doors, a fact that doesn’t bother a good number of people.

I had a couple of trucks from the prison come to pay me a visit. They were satisfied to learn that I had no firearms in my vehicle and went on their way. Up the gravel road, I saw a cloud of dust as a loaded truck barreled toward us. Suddenly the truck pulled to a stop and the driver hopped out and introduced himself. His name was Jimmy, from Zachary, LA. Jimmy was interested in hearing all about our journey and, as is usually the case, he had several riders more than willing to fill him in on the details. Someone asked him if he could recommend a place in Zachary to have lunch. Jimmy’s reply was that he’s just a country boy and doesn’t eat out much. I insisted on getting a picture of Jimmy with his rig, and told him that his photo would be on the internet. He assured me that he would check it out. A sweet man.

Because today was a high-mileage riding day, it was a long day for me. On such days, riders are spread over long distances, and I track their progress to assure their safety and to ensure that they are adequately supplied with water and snacks. On my first pass through Watson, I checked out this crawfish joint and began to hallucinate about what a great lunch I would have today. It was not to be as there was simply no time for lunch.

SAG drivers also help to clarify route directions that might not match those provided on the cue sheet. My third SAG stop was at the turn for Mary Kinchen Road. Since the sign for said road was buried in the ditch, I parked the wagon at the turn so riders wouldn’t miss it.

A reporter from the local paper joined us for dinner tonight. She had run into Jan and Marni today at a strawberry stand, agreed to deliver the berries they had purchased to the hotel, and brought an additional flat as well. She also interviewed several riders who are raising funds for various causes.

Another duty of the SAG driver is to restock the wagon for the next day’s use, a relatively straightforward task. However, there are two five-gallon water coolers that need to be refilled with water and ice, then lugged from the hotel to the wagon—easily my least favorite part of the job. And, on a really long day like today, it’s hard to muster up the energy to get it done until after dinner. Tonight I lucked out. Dave, from Dallas, was just finishing his workout in the hotel gym as I ventured into the lobby in quest of the ice machine. He insisted on carrying the filled coolers. I gave him a “tour” of the SAG wagon. Thanks, Dave.

Then the cycle repeats. Three days of riding, one day of SAG-ing, with a rest day sprinkled in about once a week.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day 40, April 14: St. Francisville, LA

21 of 21 miles—Rest Day

St. Francisville is a lovely place to spend a rest day with many nicely restored homes in its historic district and several antebellum homes open to the public. I stayed in a small B&B in town with a few other riders, while most of the group were in cottages at the Butler-Greenwood Plantation, still in the same family after more than 200 years.

Most of us avoid use of our bikes on the rest day. Today it was a necessity to do so as it was the only transportation available. The miles today will help to compensate for the high wind days when I missed a few.

The Grace Episcopal Church dates from 1827. It was shelled during the Civil War and restored in the 1880’s.

The Oakley Plantation was established in 1806 by the Pirrie family when the area was part of Spanish West Florida. In 1821 they hired J.J. Audubon to come to Oakley to tutor their daughter. Although he stayed at Oakley less than four months, he painted 32 of his Birds of America there, many of which hang in the museum and main house.


Gus, quite the handsome fellow

The entrance to this private home is stately.

Butler-Greenwood Plantation