Sunday, December 21, 2014
Wibbly BOB is wibbly
Wet rain is wet
Terrifying urban highway spaghetti is terrifying
Tautological cyclist is tautological
The alarm went off at 545 a.m. We reloaded the bikes onto Nova’s roof, dismantled the tent, and threw our stuff in the car. No sign of the cat while we packed up, but then, we left while it was still dark. The Yemassee KOA seemed like a very nice place, but I’ve only seen it by the light of a headlamp, so I can’t be too certain.
I drove while Tom slept. Living on Earth had a nice story about sea turtle rescue, which I felt was apropos considering our destination. We stopped at a rest area in Georgia about 40 miles north of the state line to organize and pack our gear, but it was raining and the picnic shelters weren’t very sheltered (the roofs were inverted!). So we gave it a pass and pulled off at the Florida welcome center, where the picnic shelters are far more functional and visitors are served FREE ORANGE JUICE for reasons I could not ascertain. We squeezed all our gear into our panniers (Tom) and BOB (me), loaded the car in the rain, changed into bike clothes in the restrooms, and continued on to the Jacksonville Amtrak station.
A few things about the Jacksonville Amtrak station:
- Drivers just leave their car in the lot. Amtrak doesn’t require you to take a ticket, or tell them you’re leaving your vehicle, or prove that you’re an Amtrak passenger. There’s no gate and no security. I parked Nova close to the station entrance (seriously, I wish Kroger had such good parking) and hoped for the best.
- I was ogled by ALL THE MEN in that station. Dirty looks and salacious greetings. For whatever reason Tom had a very different experience. Perhaps his bike shorts were slightly longer.
We raingeared up, hitched BOB to my Trek, strapped the panniers and drybag to Tom’s rear rack, clipped the map to my handlebars, turned on our safety lights, and around 1130 we rolled out. Well… first we wobbled slowly around the parking lot, and then, when we were confident we’d be able to stay more or less upright, we wobbled slowly down the road. I’d forgotten what it felt like to haul BOB behind me and my brain needed to recalibrate to find my new center of gravity. My front wheel jerked around like it was having a seizure – not a desirable experience on the shoulder of an unfamiliar urban highway in the pouring rain. The first few miles I could hear Runkle telling me, “Don’t grab the handlebars so tight; just relax and you’ll be fine,” which was reassuring, since my only other thought was “WHAT THE HELL WAS I THINKING I WILL NEVER MAKE IT TO DOWNTOWN JACKSONVILLE MUCH LESS KEY WEST JUST GIVE UP AND TURN AROUND NOW.”
Just as I started to think that I may, someday, eventually, with stoic determination and formidable perseverance, learn how to handle BOB, we rolled up to the foot of the Acosta bridge. All my nascent hopes were destroyed. Not only were there bright orange signs ominously advertising “construction” and “detour,” the entrance was crisscrossed with on- and off-ramps that had a very decidedly “abandon hope all ye bicycles that ride here” look. And yet, as we waited at the stoplight, a small peleton out for their Sunday morning club ride sped through the intersection, waving at us cheerfully, and began their ascent up the looming bridge. So, pedaling furiously, we followed, and soon enough were safely across.
The east side of Jacksonville was no better than the west. Google’s bike directions were less than accurate (perhaps due to all the downtown construction?) and we got lost several times – at one point wandering past Marco Rubio’s offices. We were glad to be navigating downtown Jacksonville on a Sunday, when there was very little traffic. Evidently, however, instead of driving downtown, all of Jacksonville’s drivers were on Hwy 90, which was downright terrifying. We peeled off and rode through a neighborhood before connecting up with it again; the second time around we were fortunate enough to have bike lanes. Once we got used to the traffic (imagine riding on State Street in Rockford or Keystone Crossing in Indy) and the rain (it was pouring) it wasn’t that bad. The streetlights all had crosswalk countdowns, so it was easy to anticipate orange lights. Drivers were all courteous. Despite my fears BOB did not cause me to fall over into traffic. Even though Hwy 90 grew on me, I was still relieved when, just before Jacksonville Beach, we turned south and wound through a residential neighborhood to get to A1A.
One month before our trip, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) designated Route A1A through Florida an official segment of US Bike Route 1. Perfect timing! This section of A1A, however, was a suburban mess – almost worse than Hwy 90. I cringed, imagining that we were about to spend twelve days negotiating traffic and cruising past colorless strip malls. Eventually, though, we crossed into the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve. The road was empty and the tailwind was strong. The rain let up. We breathed in the sea air (but couldn’t see the ocean; it was obscured by one oversized house after another) and watched long-legged, long-billed birds strut beside the road. We pulled in at a park entrance to rest and stretch our legs, but didn’t want to pay admission so stopped just outside the gate. A woman drove by and asked how far we’d ridden that day. “43 miles,” we said, proudly. She was impressed. “And we have another 13 to go!” we added. She was doubly impressed. Later in the trip, we remembered that exchange with fondness. Ah, to be proud of covering 43 miles… Which, on at least one of our days, wouldn’t have even been the halfway point.
One bridge later and we were in St. Augustine. We crossed another bridge, ogled at all the tall ships, passed the Alligator Farm, and turned at the entrance to Anastasia State Park just as the sun was setting. We registered, found our campsite, set up the tent, and went off on a futile search of showers. When we got back to our site I discovered my flipflops had given me blisters, which was a minor tragedy compared to Tom’s discovery: raccoons had gotten into his food and made off with about half his beef jerky and all his oatmeal. Tom called the ranger to ask for advice. The ranger said they’d had reports of “aggressive raccoons” and suggested we keep our food in a cooler or a car overnight.
Between exhaustion from the ride and frustration from the raccoons, we decided to forego our normal pancake dinner and just have jerky. Bad idea! Bicycle Tour Rule Number One (after always wear a helmet, keep your safety lights blinking, don’t lose the map, make eye contact with drivers, etc.) is: never skip dinner. Skipping dinner makes it more difficult to for me to cope with stress and keep my energy up the next day; every time I skipped dinner on this trip it took me 36-48 hours to recover from the calorie deficit. But, this night was early in the trip, and I still had a lot to learn.
We showered and loaded the un-raccooned food into Tom’s dry bag and pannier, which we hoped would block some of the more tempting food smells, and nestled the bag and pannier in between our sleeping pads. To make space for our unexpected guest we slept with my feet beside Tom’s head and Tom’s feet beside my head. I burrowed deep into my sleep sack, glad I’d decided to invest in a 35-degree bag instead of trying to make do with my 50-degree summer liner. In the darkness, Tom wished me a happy six month anniversary (I’d forgotten about that!) and said that so far, this tour was the most difficult thing he’d ever done in his life. I fell asleep and dreamt all night of doing battle with talking raccoons.
Having learned from the soggy driftless disaster, I brought a MLD Rain Kilt and pair of MLD eVent Rain Mitts on this trip. Both performed well. The rain kilt kept rain and road spray off my chamois while also being well-ventilated. It packed down to practically nothing and, it should go without saying, is super easy to put on over cycling shoes. The rain mitts kept my hands dry but not too hot, although they’re roomy enough that I can layer them over winter gloves for a dry ride in cold weather. My only complaint about the kilt is that, because it’s slippery, it makes it difficult to stay in the saddle.
My Garmin was running on this leg but it ran out of memory later in the trip and erased this day’s data. On our next tour I’ll make sure to record the data in my journal at the end of the day (distance, elevation, average mph, etc.) and also hopefully find a way to upload the data file onto a mobile device. If I remember correctly, our mileage today was around 58.