Serendipity Happens

Tonight I am in Calabash, NC. It’s just over the border. The reason I’m here is that I have to map out where I’m going based on two principles: 1) the direction I’m headed (toward Jersey, along the coast) and 2) distances of about 60 miles. I only needed to ride 40 or so to get here but this looked like a populated spot on my way to Wilmington and beyond. Not enough time to super analyze each stop.

One pleasant surprise today was that I arrived here at about 12:30 ahead of schedule so I had a couple hours extra to experience the area. The roads today were pretty good and much of it was along the ocean and very easy and chill. The other surprise was that this town of Calabash, where I’m staying, and the neighboring town of Sunset Beach are little hidden gems along the coast.

If you look at a map, like I did, it would appear that is is a backwater place but actually it’s a beautiful area of the lowlands. Islands intertwine here in an easy way that dissolves all the hustle and bustle and angst of the highways nearby.

My airbnb host, Rebekah, pointed out that I needed to see Sunset Beach, just down the road about 1/4 mile. So after I arrived I set out on my bike to check the area out. This is a special place with commanding views of the inlets and marshes along with manicured golf courses and even a gator observation area.

You’ll see a few pictures here that do not do the area justice. Its calm, peaceful, wet, wild and not overly commercial. There are wealthy communities among average developments. You can tell here that the people love and respect the natural area they live in. It’s just a little piece of the coast that is not known by many but loved by those that visit and end up living here.

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My first gator sighting here at the oveservation area of Twin Lakes at Sunset Beach

Take me to the bridge

True confession. Some bridges scare me these days. It wasn’t always that way. But maybe I was always in awe of the idea. This time I am faced with the challenge almost daily of engaging with them.

It’s complicated because they can be both challenging and satisfying. I mean crossing over anything that spans two bodies is worthy of respect. Being in my own funk these days and in the south, my mind kept  coming back to James Brown, “The Godfather of Soul.”

He’s famous for the line “Take me to the bridge.” Of course, who knows what he was talking about exactly? But the Google consensus is that he was doing a musical shift to his horn section bridging the way the song was going. I keep thinking of him sliding across the floor and his guttural “Hey” with horns blasting and then the music stops and all goes back to the rythum.

Well I’ve had my share of heart stopping bridges where I try to remember James while I plow on. The Seven Mile bridge with 4 ft narrow shoulder for 7 miles.

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7-Mile Bridge in the Florida Keys

The bridge Broad River Bridge near Beaufort which is over 500 feet high and nearly 2 miles long was a monster at the end of a 60-mile day.

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Broad River Bridge

But Charleston threw some new challenges out to me today.

I was staying on James Island just below Charleston. It had a fairly small draw bridge  with metal grating that needed to be crossed to get off the island then another similar draw bridge with all the traffic fury of the Rt 17 morning rush. These bridges are tricky in normal conditions, but can be extremely slippery after the rain we had the day before. I decided to get off the bike and walk it, except there was no place to walk tbe bike. So, I had to piss off a lot rush hour drivers. Harrowing? Yes.

Then, soon after ending up in the city of Charleston I made my way thru to the “Big Bridge” aka Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, which I knew nothing about. It’s a 2.7 mile span peaking around 500 feet with a commanding view of Charleston. Viewing this from the bike from afar at 7:00 am led me to an “Oh s__t!” moment. But, as I got closer I found that it was designed with protection for cyclist and pedestrians! Sweet Baby Jesus, there was nothing to fear and much to admire and awe. It might just be the most beautiful bridge I have ever crossed!

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Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge from the beginning

Today, I hear there are two bridges here in Georgetown to cross as I start my way to Myrtle Beach. I cringe a bit but Joseph, my Airbnb host, says you can always walk it. He’s right and I just might do that and Georgetown is a much more chill place. At least I’ll get it over in the morning and lose that anxiety for the rest of the day.

Let the spirit of James “Take me to the Bridge” Bump, bump, bump, bump, bump.

 

Salt of the Earth

The Rolling Stones said it well…

Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth

I’m guessing that most of us give little thought to everyone around us unless we faced with meeting and greeting others.

If there’s one thing this trip has taught me is that we are all connected with great and interesting people. Maybe its my daily riding outfit or just being in places where others are strangers too. Its renewed my faith in our brother and sisterhood. Here’s just a bunch since I started:

Singers at the bar…

Fishing as a way of life… The bridge pier is so high and the fish so big, most can’t be brought up. But its all about fishing.

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Family fishing is a way of life. Fish here are bigger. No wonder that.

Ferry as a lifestyle. Katherine is retired but crosses the St James River to help care for invalid women for her church. Her husband retired from military as so many around here do.

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Katherine filled me in on the details of the ferry and the area.

Sandra and Ed vacation here in Florida to visit kids who have moved to the area. They are from Vermont.

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Sandra and Ed from Vermont

John and Joan rolled into Charleston in their deluxe RV. They retired to Tucson but prefer roaming the country. Warm areas in the winter, cool areas in the summer. Their original home base was Connecticut.

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John and Joan from Tucson

Where do you turn on a Sunday morning for some energy and good vibes? Your local roadside produce stand. This guy gave me a Red Navel orange and would not take any money for it. Pay it forward…

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Red Navels for sale or to give away. Kindness everywhere.

Here’s Carl (aka “Port Arthur”) a former trombonist who looks like he now admintsters wisdom to locals and travelers near Charleston. Everyone seems to know Carl.

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Carl (“Port Arthur”) the resident sage of these parts with a friend.

Then there were some “trail angels” right before Charleston where the road made me weary. Min and Carl pointed out a real bike path that let me ride 6 miles to town and saved my ass.

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Min and Carl who helped guide me to safe passage along the W. Ashley Greenway.

All hail the good people out there.

And now a word about biking

Today, I finally arrived at Charleston at 4:30. It was probably the toughest day so far puting in about 75 miles, most of it in headwinds and tough road conditions. There’s something that’s so elemental to doing this. I have a direction, I create a destination and I HAVE TO get there. There’s no support team that’s got my back. But maybe there is.

If you have ever engaged in the cycling community you know there are a lot of characters that it draws. It has its long peculiar history and customs and yet it depends largely on the latest technology and ideas of fitness and conditioning. Let’s just say its a conundrum that I don’t understand myself but and I’m caught up in.

Some cycling fanatics will think nothing of dropping $10K for a bike while others will carefully shop the best online deals and ways of fixing things themselves. Most would agree that biking is blend of art and science that pushes us to our limits. The one thing we have in common is the love of the idea of riding. The bike is the art form we just are just happy to be able to use it.

I was reminded of the brotherhood of cycling just yesterday when I was 50 miles into a 60 mile ride and was dying for something to eat. The trip that day Savannah to Beaufort provided few opportunities to stop in the morning so I kept plowing on. Before I knew it, it was after 12:00 and my stomach was telling me to find any place for something to eat soon. I glanced across the road and saw a business park area that had a “Cafe” sign and I quickly turned in.

In the first set of stores I passed, I saw a sign that said “Lab Cyclery” and a guy that was waving me over. I pulled up and after remarking what a sweet ride I had said “Come on in and let me look over the bike for you. Looks like you have been on the road a bit.”

Bill immediately notices a few loose bolts, things that need adjustment and of course the grime and dirt. He puts the bike on a rack and checked every bolt, gave me a handful of bolts for that rack that has been a problem and says “Give me a few minutes to clean this up for you.” I go and get lunch next door and come back with a fully tuned and really clean bike ready to ride! I am amazed.

Bill is the owner and recent transplant down here in the low country. He is a bike lover and has worked on more bikes than I could imagine for other shops. He comes from the Syracuse area and also has skills as a machinist. A trade that is dying in this age of mass production and globalization. But Bill also had a dream.

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Inside Lab Cyclery. Right now he specializes in Eddie Merx and Felt brands.

He answered an ad for store manager and mechanic for a well known bike store in a neighboring town of Bluffton and moved with his wife here. No sooner had he moved than a week later he got notice that the store was closing. So, he decided to open his own shop. I wish him the very best luck and wished I could do more. I know starting any business is difficult. Starting a cycling shop is far harder than most.

Bill represents the heart and beauty of cycling which none of us want to die. He wanted no money from me after working on my bike for an hour, giving spare bolts. I needed to beg to pay him something. I bought a tire pressure meter which was needed anyway. We empathize and know what the pain and pleasure of riding is all about and we share that among ourselves. This business thing is just an unfortunate way to carry on our obsession.

The best I can do for Bill is let everyone know he is there and should be patronized and lionized for his act of kindness which I am now obliged to pay forward. Cycling is such pain, pleasure and glory.

Here’s where I want you to promote or go if and when you get to the “Low Country”

Lab Cyclery
149 Riverwalk Blvd. Suite 12
Ridgeland, SC 29939
843-540-3079
pro_fitting@yahoo.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Loveallbikes/

Thanks once again Bill. You da man!

The Expat
A tuned and cleaned bike is a happy bike

Conquering Savannah

It’s a day off to explore. Four solid days of riding and its time to see some sites right here in the heart of the old South.

Staying here about 10 miles south of the city, I was advised to leave the bike home and catch an Uber. It’s the way to travel when I can’t bike or walk there. We all better get used to it. For about $20 all it takes is a couple taps on the phone and magically a friendly driver appears. Oh so nice and easy, especially when there’s no haggling on price and the money magically transfers without shelling any currency. All of life should be that easy. Love them or hate them, Uber has changed everything.

In about 20 minutes I’m transported to a busy and vibrant city I barely remember 40 years ago when I last visited. All the tourists visit the Moon River and Historic Districts among many others. Fortunately, it’s an easy city to explore in about 1 X 1 miles broken up into square blocks and filled with square parks’ large and small building and old homes and, of course, tree-lined streets.

I arrived around 11:00 a.m and headed for the river front area where shops line the old port area on two to four levels above the water. This leads to the main historic area with all its business and tourists. The high-end stores and typical quality franchises are here (Starbucks, Hyatt, etc.). The riverboat and trolley tours are popular but I chose hoofing it in town.

My only slight problem is I am traveling with only 2 pair of shoes, i.e., a pair of sandals and my cycling shoes. At least my shoe planning paid off as I equipped my bike for Shimano SPD pedals which allow a shoe with an embedded cleat so that I can walk around flat, without a protruding big cleat. My typical road bike shoe uses the Look pedal system which is worthless for walking around casually. So I was able to cover a couple of the districts in town in a few hours.

Since I did not have much time and just a few recommendations, I hunted down what I could find. There was “Vic’s” located on the 4th level at the river front which Nikki had told me was a great place to hang out for a relatively cheap lunch with a view. Since budgeting and simple was my line of thinking, I passed.

All Hail the Great Dive Bar!

Then there was Pinkie Master’s which has a strange reputation as one of the great “dive bars” and relecting the real vibe of Savannah. So, thanks to Google I mapped it out and took about 1/2 mile walk away from the tourists and toward the center of town. There it was looking its part, although hardly in a bad part of town.

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So, part of the legend of Pinkie Master’s is that it was always a political watering hole where the big and small folk could meet and drink – probably the most popular sport from what I hear in this town. The exact location changed over time with its ups and downs. It’s truely a very small bar filled with memorabilia.

One of the great stories is of Jimmy Carter hanging out here and with the local pols. He has his own plaque on the wall and is famous for giving a speech standing up on the bar. He wrote this to the owner after they acknowledged his contributions to Georgia.

“I will always remember the times I had in your establishment,” Carter wrote. “When I ran for governor, Pinkie himself was one of my most important supporters. And when I was back in Savannah as President of the United States, I will never forget standing on the bar to say thank you.”

The bar has that old dark comfortable feeling with doors open and reminds me of the old small NYC Village bars like the Bitter End or the Dugout, but maybe even smaller. I order a beer and ask about food. The bar keep says no food here, but I can order something next door and bring it in. So, after a couple beers and listening to the Stones and Hendricks, I ask him to watch my stuff at the bar and I go next door and order a California King sandwich basically a huge turkey club on foccacia. He says he’ll deliver it next door at Pinkie’s when ready. Beautiful. Great, a sandwich personally delivered to your favorite bar, next door. This is living large!

I lingered long enough to finish lunch, have another beer and take a few pics then walked to the Hyatt and called for an Uber. Before you know it I was magically transported to the condo ready to plan out the next couple days.

Heavy rain is in the forecast for Monday.

If I can get myself to Beaufort SC then the next day to Charleston I can at least wait out the rain in a comfortable city like Savannah. At least that’s the plan for now.

The march to Savannah

When Maj. Gen.William Tecumseh Sherman of the Union Army began his famous march from Atlanta to the sea it ended with the capture of the port of Savannah. His forces followed a “scorched earth” policy. I think they still hate Yankees about that. I intended to use the “leave not a trace” policy with my approach.

Yesterday, I came from the sleepy city of Brunswick and rolled in nicely to a new condo development right outside Savannah. It’s my home for a couple of days. While I don’t feel tired at all, I had planned to spend an extra day in key places. Savannah was one of them. This will also give me an opportunity to recharge and plan ahead instead of the daily plan of where I’m going to stay the next.

The day started out weird. Just as I was going to bed the night before I suddenly remembered my checking out at Win-Dixie with a few items and then selecting to get back $40 cash on my debit card. But I knew immediately that I had not taken the money and rushed out. I would imagine everyone has done this at one time or another. For me and my cheapo scheme, $40 cash is a big loss. It’s about 1/2 of my self-imposed daily budget.

So, I left Brunswick at about 7:00 a.m. just in time to get to the store opening to desperately argue my case. By then, I had no receipt and only a strange remembrance of the amount of the transaction $58.19 and the time I was there. Lucky for me the store manager went straight to work and viewed the video tape for the day (they did not cash out the station) and gave me the $40! Good Lawd Almighty! I’ve been saved! It was a good omen for the rest of the day.

After leaving the congestion of any populated area the road once again opens up and bike traveling gets easier. Shoulders appear and by the middle of the day there are times where minutes go by where no vehicles are in sight. Today, I was blessed with a bit of a tailwind.

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My strategy is to get a quick breakfast or at least coffee by 8 and then roll on until about 10 and find a diner or something like it for a big breakfast to get me through until the finish (estimated 2-3 p.m.). But, without know what’s ahead, even short-term plans need adjusting.

I stumbled upon a minor roadside attraction – the Smallest Church in America. More about that at another time….

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Inside the Smallest Church in America

There was not many signs of commerce along the way so I realized I needed to just create something and pulled into a gas station (all of which now sell food to make a living and gas as a loss leader) and buy something to eat with Gatorade to re-hydrate (mid-80s today).

Here at the Red Rooster station I got into a discussion with a friendly guy asking me where I’m going. (I pause here to acknowledge that I’m looking very strange here in biking gear in the middle of Georgia!) He says “Oh wow, I used to live in Atlantic City and I was a dealer at the Revel…until I got laid off. My cousin said to come here until I figured out what to do next. And, I’m still here.” He added, “Now I know. I’m going to buy my own business so I don’t have to work for anyone else. A wise person told me you can’t get rich working for someone. You have to do it on your own.” Ah, the wisdom of the road! I didn’t want to crush his dream and totally agreed.

So, off I went without a full breakfast and adjusting to the idea of a full lunch. The body was now begging for something more. After 5 hours of riding, just about noon, I finally came upon a town big enough to have a place to eat called Midway. And, there was Captain Joe’s, a popular small restaurant that was perfect for a great Shrimp Po-Boy with the best sweet potato fries I ever had.

I still had 25 miles to go and traffic and civilization began to interrupt as I neared Savannah. Soon I was at my destination and arrived around 3:30 after waiting on a freight train crossing for 1/2 hour.

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Inside the condo unit in Savannah where I’ll stay for a couple days.

The night’s stay and the next would be in a new condo unit in Savannah’s Georgetown suburb shared with a couple of guys. It’s 10 miles south of the city’s center and an Uber ride away. I’ve conquered the South…at least for now.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn

We are out of the funk of yesterday and the curtain has opened to some sweet weather and southern hospitality – along with the strangeness that is the south. Now, as Rhett Butler said “…Ahh just don’t give a damn.”

This is my Wednesday post and I took off early (7:45 am) from Jacksonville after faintly saying good by to my airbnb “non-hostess” who could barely care I was there. It was like dropping into a reality show where the kids were screaming and mom was laying around like Rosanne. I slept fine. Caution: Airbnb’s may vary. Consult your reviews.

Anyway, at 53 degrees and clear and bright it was great starting conditions. After a few miles of local roads I set upon Rt 17 which is the old coastal highway I think. Its path is a bit more inland but goes north to south and might have been there before Rt 95 stole all the attention.

It is a pretty road going through northern Florida marshes and pine forests before turning into Georgia. Mostly its a single lane highway with at least a 4 foot shoulder so there was ample room for bikes. But as usual blazingly fast 18 wheelers and dump trucks still shake the s___ out of you occasionally.

As anyone who has biked the NJ pine barrens knows, long straight routes can be tough mentally as they seem to go on and on forever. Thank God there were a few really small towns scattered between the 70 or so miles I covered. Breakfast at Steffen’s in Kingsland did not disappoint.

 

But the long threatening looking bridge called the Sydney Lanier Bridge was an awesome challenge – right at the end too!

 

All this landed me in the most beautiful, forgotten southern town – Brunswick, GA. Its history must parallel Savannah because its old, sleepy, excentric, and similar looking and laid out as Savannah. Moss hanging everywhere, old gloriously big mansions, small squares and parks and areas beautifully restored and others broken down and poor.

 

What a place I’m in! An old genuine Victorian home with antiques and a feel of two centuries ago. The home is beautifully restored inside and modernized to some extent. Outside needs some work but its sort of the way things are here in this area.

You look outside the house and see the “Love Oak” a centuries old huge oak tree with cypress moss hanging all over it. It’s a town of contrasts and great old beauty. I;m in an airbnb private bedroom with a grand old 4 poster bed for the ridiculous price of $45 per night totalling $62 with charges.

 

By far my favorite place with comfort, convenience, funk and lots of history in the area. There is a palpable feeling of Gone With the Wind here and its worth every minute of my short stay. Tomorrow we roll on to Savannah! Like General Sherman!

 

 

 

A simple twist of fate

It’s Tuesday. Eight days into the epic ride. And, things have changed. Again.

On the positive side, I’ve had two great days of riding, with perfect weather in 60s and 70s and bright and beautiful skies. I was able to do 50 to 60 miles each day arriving at our destination by 3:00 p.m. This was exactly the plan.

What changed? A couple things. First, two days of pretty strong headwinds 10-20 yesterday and about 5-10 today caused the rides to be tough but still doable. Second, a missing partner. Tom got a call from his house-flipping business partner back in NJ about troubles in payment of contractors which called for immediate financing. He said he had to go back to take care of it. That’s all I know. Right now he’s on an Amtrak heading home with his bike.

Tom is an older dude nearing 80 and one tough independent rider. He’s set in his ways but makes good company. While I did the Keys, he started April 11 from Ft. Lauderdale and had not rested any days, doing over 200 miles more than me.

What we both learned is that although he did this ride himself about six years ago, he might not have been up to it now. Or maybe not at the pace we planned. We did not really end up riding together in the end because he simply went at a pace about 1/3 slower than mine. It became a classic Tortoise and the Hare. We went out together and he went his way and I went mine meeting at the end of the day. Not that we could not work with that but it held me back and I think he was self-conscious about it.

All that might not have anything to do with his dropping out but I can’t help but feel it contributed to packing it in.

There are lots of good things to say about the ride so far, including staying at airbnbs, meeting interesting people, visiting strange places, experiencing great food and dealing with biking issues. All that will have to wait for another day.

I’m solo from now on. There’s work to be done if I’m going to get back to Jersey. That’s the plan.

 

A slight change in plans

This is exactly why plans suck.

I “planned” this trip loosely because I knew we’d be improvising at some point. All it takes is one thing to go wrong and it changes everything. So, I’m already a day behind In my wildest dreams, I was supposed to be renting a car Friday morning and driving back to Fort Lauderdale to continue my coast ride and meet up with Tom. Instead, I found myself pitching a tent in Boyd’s Family Campground, Stock Island, just outside of Key West. I had made it but was at least 1, maybe 2 days behind where I wanted to be. Meanwhile, Tom was barrelling on.

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One thing I needed to do while here was to at least see the basic Duvall Street happenings which was made easy by taking a cheap public bus from the campground to the center of town. That and a beautiful sunset worked like a charm.

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So, after spending the night camping on Stock Island, I rented a Ford Escape and threw my gear into it and headed to Daytona Beach where I could drop off the car and meet up with Tom on Sunday or Monday.

Couple of problem with that plan. One, the ride was really far and took me the entire Saturday to ride from Key West to Daytona, 450 miles away! I’m learning how big this state really is. Holding as true to form as possible I searched for the cheapest place to drop into and found the La Bella Oceanfront Inn.

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For $89 a night it has a king size bed, no rugs, fairly clean, dimly lit and right on the ocean. Absolutely no amenities to offer except towels and WIFI. Above my road trip budget. Yeah, below my standards, but this is a trip to strech my limits. Two days here. I’m heading north on Monday to St. Augustine and back on the road again with Tom.

 

 

Just when you think…

Rewinding again to Friday the 13th, I was way too confident thinking I had solved my mechanical problems and added new tires. I’ll repeat that that the shop All Keys Cycles said that the new Continental Plus Contact Travel 700X35c tires were built to take rough street roads. Really, the issue is whether there’s enough tough tread to avoid a puncture. This was the latest model with Kevlar.

cocpr2-1After I finished the 7-mile bridge I was feeling a little heady and maybe too optimistic. I had a 50 mile ride on Friday and had finished about 20 miles when my rear wheel flatted, with one fo the new tires. The good news – it did not happen on the 7-Mile Bridge. The bad new was I needed to fix a flat on rims that were a problem. But the shop said it should be easier on these new wider tires.

Wrong. The tire was still incredibly hard to roll on to the rim. After 1/2 hour of trying, I saw a construction workers nearby and challenged him to help. It was good to know my wimpness would be shared. So we both tried to figure a way to stretch the tire over the rim, trying to avoid roughing up the tube and destroying a new tube in the process. Finally, both of us forcing the tire it went over the rim and pumped up fine. I’m looking good again.

But, I have to say to myself how do I handle this the next time? I watched the bike repair guy pretty easily put on the tire. It looked like a piece of cake. There are little minute tricks to doing this. But mostly I’d just rather not have to think about the next time. Which I do. This is the new reality.

This is Sunday and I’ve ridden the bike at least 50 miles and all looks good. Let’s keep our fingers crossed and believe in the indestructibility of good new tires. And, maybe the good nature of others to help…if I need it.

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