Saturday, June 7, 2008

June 7, 2008: Destin to Panama City

Today's plan was to get on the road at first light so that we could get out of Destin before the traffic started up. Our hotel did not have a breakfast of any kind, so we were rolling at 5:38. I was in front about an hour later when I spotted an open restaurant called The Donut Hole and pulled into the parking lot.

It was great to have a full breakfast -- or, in my case, two breakfasts. I ordered an omelet but when I saw Fred & Ray's pancakes, I ordered those, too.

A couple of miles later we diverted off US98 onto the scenic beachfront route. This turned out real well. Unlike Destin, the beach communities we rode through for the next couple of hours were quiet, upscale towns and we took advantage of the bike path that stretched nearly the whole way. We saw lots of other cyclists but no others touring.

While exploring the waterfront near our hotel this afternoon, Fred met an old fellow who invited us to come by this evening to toast the anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, which he survived but many of his friends did not. We had a most pleasant afternoon with Joe and his family.

Today's 53 mile ride took 3 hrs 55 mins (13.5 avg) with a brisk headwind most of the way.

Friday, June 6, 2008

June 6, 2008: Pensacola to Destin, FL - Mike discovers he should have replaced his tire

We forgot to tell Mike about the uniform.

Fred, on tip-toes, with Paul and Sonny Walker

Today was Mike's first day on the Tour d' Fred. Around 10 miles in, before we had gotten out of Pensacola, he flatted on the approach to the first bridge. A mile or so later, he flatted again. Fred found a hole in the sidewall of the tire that we had missed when fixing the first flat. With a new tire on the rear, there were no further issues.

This stretch from Pensacola to Destin was probably the worst so far in terms of traffic and riding conditions. It appears that everyone in the area who owns an RV or a boat on a trailer was on 98 headed to Destin. In addition, there were areas with no shoulder and many of the drivers have no patience with bicyclists who are delaying their weekend recreation by 30 seconds. Our early departure tomorrow morning will, hopefully, get us out of this area before the traffic starts building up again. We will undoubtedly hit some more congestion around Panama City, but there the weekend may work in our favor. Once we get past Panama City the following day, we will still be on 98, but out of the resort area, so it should be ok.

Today we rode almost exactly 60 miles, but it took 4 hours and 26 minutes of pedalling. Our average speed was 13.6. It may pick back up a little as Mike gets acclimated, but he is used to touring at a slower pace than we have been going recently, so we will probably end up back around 14 mph, as we were doing during our first week. Slow or fast doesn't really matter to me one way or the other, but I want to be out of this traffic -- it is no fun at all.

The sun was relentless today. Even getting in at around 12, and starting out with a heavier application of SPF 50 sun-block, I caught much more sun than I would prefer, especially on my shoulders. I am going to change back from the sleeveless jersey I have been wearing to the short sleeve one, at least for a day or two.

Relaxing in the shade with cold beers in Destin after the ride.

We had a very good lunch nearby, with an excellent waitress. Fred went through his regular stand-up routine ("Perhaps you have heard of the Tour de Fred? No? I decided I needed to do something manly for my 60th birthday. My wife suggested that I work in the garden [makes face and pauses for laugh]. Instead, I decided to bicycle across the country... ") He loves telling the story of how the TdF came to be, even if much of it -- like Pat's telling him to work in the garden -- isn't true, and we all enjoy hearing him tell it.

We were going to try to get a proper replacement for Mike's tire this afternoon, but couldn't find anything in this area. Our next leg is short (51 miles) and there will probably be a good bike shop in Panama City, so we'll try again tomorrow. For now, he is doing fine with his spare. We have nothing else planned for the afternoon. I might even see if I can catch a nap!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

June 5, 2008: Rest day, Lucky Flat #3, Final Section Itinerary

Back of Sonny's house in Pensacola

Dock behind Sonny's house

I forgot to mention yesterday that Ray's rear tire was flat when we passed the bike on our way out to dinner (several hours after our arrival in Pensacola). It is a mystery flat on the inner (rim) surface of the tube, about six inches from the valve. The rim itself is clean and the rim tape is intact. We replaced the tube and cleaned the inside of the tire and rim. We'll be watching it.

During our rest day, we went to a bike shop and I got a used jocky pulley: free, but in just slightly better shape than mine. Hopefully I won't need it anyway. Sonny is putting together a crabmeat quiche for lunch and shrimp stew for dinner. Life on the road sure is tough!

Mike, the last of the "Four Bicycleman of the Preposterous" is supposed to show up this afternoon -- bicycling from the Pensacola airport. This should give him a good taste of Florida afternoon riding. We expect no argument about leaving tomorrow at sunrise.

Here's what's left:

Pensacola to Destin (60 miles)
Destin to Panama City (56.0 miles)
Panama City to Apalachiacola (58.9 miles)
Apalachiacola to St Marks (66.1 miles)
St Marks to Mayo (69.8 miles)
Mayo to Gainesville (64.4 miles)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

June 4, 2008: Duaphin Island, AL to Pensacola, FL - Ferry well done

This morning we slept in (6:30) so that we could enjoy the Cajun breakfast plus pancakes promised by the proprietor of our b&b yesterday. It ended up being a regular breakfast of eggs, grits, bacon, sausage, biscuits and so forth, but it was still a cut above what we had been getting in our hotels. 

Oil rigs in the Bay

Live Croakers???

Fort Gaines, back view

Our ferry was scheduled to depart at 9:30, so we were there well in advance. Nonetheless, 9:30 came and went with no sign of the ferry. We soon learned that it was out of action with a steering problem. The word was that it would be there ASAP if they could fix it, otherwise ferry number two would go at 11:00, as scheduled. We decided to go up the road to have a look at Fort Gaines, a Confederate installation at the tip of the island. We looked around the exterior but decided to pass on a closer inspection. That was a good call because at around 10 the ferry appeared in the bay headed for the dock. Happily, we made it to the other side of the bay without further delay.

On the ferry.

Another of Fred's fashion statements. Note the removable sunscreen mustache.

The problem, however, was that we were now just starting a 50 mile ride under an intense sun with neither clouds nor shade to be seen anywhere. Our pattern was to be close to finished by this time, not just starting out. By the end of the ride I was 'well done'. The usual amount of sunscreen just could not hold up to today's radiation. 

At about the halfway point the pointed the way, but it was a way contrary to the directions given by Paul Walker (Fred's friend, my statistics instructor from 37 years ago, and the brother of our host, Sonny, in Pensacola). Fred insisted we follow Paul's directions instead of the GPS. We were headed in the right direction but the gps was very unhappy about the route and kept suggesting turns or u-turns. That usually stops after a little while when you take a legitimate alternative, so I became increasingly suspicious. We eventually stopped for a little break and I asked a local for some guidance. He told me that our current road dead-ends in a few miles and would definitely not get us to our destination. 

Fred had already taken off down the road, but we knew he'd be back, so Ray and I broke out the map. We quickly determined that the GPS's last ignored instruction was the way to go. Fred finally showed up, and the remainder of the ride went smoothly, guided by the GPS. 

Once at Sonny's place in Pensacola we were able to check to see what went wrong with Paul Walker's directions. He was using MapQuest and unless you zoom in past a certain point, it looks like Route 180 turns north and intersects 98, when in fact it just continues straight as a two lane road and dead-ends. We therefore officially hold Paul blameless for the faulty directions into Pensacola.

Approximately one foot inside the Florida border Fred managed to get into an argument with a guy passing us on the bridge. The passing motorist was unhappy about Fred riding on the left edge of the shoulder. (I am unhappy about the same thing, but have learned to live with it.) 

Maybe 15 minutes later we were stopped at a convenience store when a young woman, chatting with a friend in a running car parked in front of the store, opened her window and dropped her cigarette butt on the ground. Fred turned to Ray and said, "Watch this." He then dramatically walked over, picked up her discarded cigarette, put it out, and dropped it into the trash can. He then walked around to the back of her car and pretended to note her tag number while placing a phone call (actually to his brother, but it looked like he was reporting her to some authority). The end result was a protracted name-calling fest, that rapidly involved Ray as well, whom she instructed to perform a sex act involving extreme flexibility. In return, Ray wished her "a good, short life," having little patience for smokers. He and Fred then mounted up and started down the road while I finished the last swig of my Powerade and donned my helmet. Before I could escape, however, the offended smoker returned and started in on ME! Apparently I deserved it for being "dressed like them." Up to this point I had been an innocent bystander. I refused to reciprocate, dusted off some old crisis intervention skills, and tried to calm her down. She was still upset, though, because she was convinced that Fred had reported her to the police for littering. I assured her that this was not the case, but I don't think she believed me. It's great to be back in Florida! Bring on the yahoos, and let the beer bottles fly! 

Fred had prepared us for a 'rustic' concrete block shelter. Instead, Sonny has a very nicely decorated three bedroom house and gave us a very warm welcome. Paul showed up a little later with Uncle Buck, an 87 year old WWII ace who just lost his wife of 66 years.
We all went to dinner at a local place where Sonny is a favored regular, so we got great service. 

Not counting a couple of miles before the ferry ride, we rode 51 miles in 3 hours, 13 minutes, at a pace of 15.9 mph. Not bad considering the wind and tall bridges we had to climb.

We are looking forward to our first real day of relaxation tomorrow. I plan to do laundry and to try to find a bike shop to get a jockey pulley to have in reserve. (When cleaning the bike after our rainy day last week, I noticed a missing tooth on one of mine. For now it is still working fine, but bike shops are rare on this route so I want to be prepared.)

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

June 3, 2008: Ocean Springs, MS to Dauphin Island, AL

We left Ocean Springs at around 6:15 and made haste along US-90 before turning south to Dauphin Island. The island is accessed via a long (something like 2.5 miles) bridge, with a high center. Until we hit the coast we had either no wind or a tail wind, but that changed once we got out to the water. I didn't feel like fighting the wind, so I watched Ray and Fred pull away to attack the bridge. They stopped at the top, so I caught up with them there and we rode onto the island together. Today's ride was 62 miles and took us only 3 hours and 50 minutes or so. We easily maintained a 16 mph pace until we got to the Gulf. Fred is really doing well now.

We came upon our second bike tourists today -- two young guys who started in Key West and are headed to Washington State. Fred explained the whole Tour de Fred concept, including that it was a celebration of his 60th birthday. "NO WAY!" they cried. "WAY!" we cried in return. Geezer Power!

We are staying tonight at a wonderful B & B, The Dauphin House. We believe there is one other guest, but we have not seen him or her yet. Tomorrow is a short 49 miles and includes a ferry ride (our fingers and toes are crossed), so we figure we can break with tradition and stay long enough to partake of the included breakfast.

While at the local store to pick up supplies, Fred found a fishing pole kit, which he promptly bought. On our return to the B & B, he headed for the dock and actually succeeded in catching a fish! 

After ten straight days and something like 650 miles of riding, I must admit that I am looking forward to our rest day on Pensacola beach on Thursday.

June 2, 2008: Poplarville to Ocean Springs, MS - Lucky flat #2 & Elysium

Last night we decided to try for a 5:30 AM departure. We would have made it except that Ray's front tire was flat. This one beat even my in-front-of-the-hotel flat in Natchez! We fixed it without incident and were rolling at exactly 6, which was still better than we had been doing. We were checking into our hotel in Ocean Springs at 11:30.

In the opening scene of 'Gladiator' Russell Crowe tells his legions not to be troubled if  they suddenly find themselves transported from the battlefield to a wondrous place of peace -- '...for you are in Elysium.'

When we made the turn from highway 26 to highway 15 this morning, I thought for a moment that a logging truck must have surely dispached all three of us to Bicycle Elysium. One moment we were gripping our handlebars as the tractor-trailers, logging trucks, and pickups blew past us; the next moment we were rolling fast and silently over silky smooth new asphault, pushed by a gentle tailwind, under a canopy of oaks, through a national forest with no other vehicle anywhere around! The previous 32 miles were immediately forgotten. These idyllic conditions remained for the next 25 miles or so. This stretch of road was unanimously declared to be the best we have yet experienced. 

We covered today's 68 miles in under four and a half hours, giving us an average pace of better than 15 mph (significantly faster than any previous day) with a lower than average effort.

After we checked into our hotel, Fred called --- who came over and gave us a tour of the area, including some remaining evidence of Hurricane Katrina from three years earlier. We all enjoyed a buffet at one of the local casino's. It was ample, tasty, and quite a bargain.

Monday, June 2, 2008

June 1, 2008: Franklinton, LA to Poplarville, MS - First Contact

I had no internet access yesterday so I could not upload a post. I wrote one last night, but yet another technology snafu has sent it into the ether. This is therefore a shorter version of the original.

The highlight of yesterday's 53 mile, 4 hour ride from Franklinton, LA to Poplarville, MS was meeting our first other touring cyclists. Eagle Eyes (Ray) spotted Art and Carol riding toward us just west of Bogalusa, LA. They are riding from Atlanta to San Diego on their loaded tandem and camping most nights, so we are really sissy-boys by comparison. In addition, I shudder to think about pedaling that heavy rig over all those hills! Art, by the way, looked to be at least 65.

We took the day much slower for some reason. It was not a conscious decision, but that's the way it went. My legs were hurting -- not muscle soreness -- more like swelling or lactic acid buildup or something. I resolved to elevate them after the ride, which I did.

We stayed in a cute little three bedroom 'guest cottage'. It turned out to be our best and least expensive accommodations to date. We walked in the door to a bowl of fruit, fresh cinnamon rolls, a stocked fridge, and all the comforts of home (except internet). According to the proprietor, there would even have been cold beer if his wife had not been out of town.

On the wildlife front, I did another turtle rescue -- almost identical to the first one.