Wednesday, 16 March 2011
Two Lessons: Avon Park – 12:23
Always trust the GPS (Although you should aggressively resist this advice if you find yourself being directed over the edge of a cliff). In my experience on this trip, the machine just seems to have a nose for the better roads — which is good, since my usual routine involves scratching my head for a while at the crossroads, then unerringly opting for the traffic-clogged straightaway. Current theories (what else am I supposed to think about for all those revolutions?) is that the software grades the busyness of each road, or it’s following the shortest non-highway distance between two points, or i’m just a bit of a doughnut when it comes to route selection. All three could fly.
Case in point, the SH64 pretty much wins the derby for the ideal Floridian cycling road (and i would have completely missed it if i had listened to GoogleMaps, which told me to continue north on the reliable but somewhat staid 17). By contrast, the SH64 has been showing off its gentle topography like a giddy pubescent, rolling through gentle farmland with cows that calmly mark your passing with a quizzical look and a few more chews on the proverbial. There is an almost total absence of cars, and the tractors make you feel genuinely quick for a change. The houses, where there are any, are set well back from the road among orchards, fragrant fields, rusting cars and peeling For Sale signs. It seems like quite a pleasant place to spend a few hours, though of course, that may have something to do with the fact that it will only be a few hours.
Also, bizarrely, at times this morning it has felt as though I have been slyly wetting myself. This is possibly because I started fiddling with my seat position again in Arcadia and now I seem to have hoisted it into a position where it has pinched a nerve leading from one dark and fusty place to another, thereby killing all feeling but for a slow, spreading tingle that feels remarkably like you’re wetting your down belows. This ongoing palaver with saddles, seat posts and the like has definitely decided me in favour of a professional bike fitting when I’ve got the chance (and £200 to spare). I’ve only heard good things about the results, and I have a feeling a very long queue of body parts would assemble to thank me.
Clermont – outside of Publix – 9:30 pm
Playing at Homeless.
I have been masquerading as a tourist with some measure of success, but anyone possessed of even modest powers of observation would notice the telltae signs: spending a little too long in the restroom, emerging with a wet face and pockets bulging with stolen toilet paper. Or changing out of my shoes and into my flip flops while waiting for dinner in a Chinese restaurant. Charging a whole range of devices in a publicly-accessible power outlet, or even now, scribbling in my book on a bench outside of Publix, sipping a large Corona wrapped in a paper bag. Because tonight is the last night of my bicycling epic and the fourth time I have chosen to go without legitimate sleeping arrangements. But for a small copse of trees two miles back down Highway 27, where my hammock is strung between two of them, I have no home.
And this much I do know: that no matter how enjoyable I find it trying to live by my wits at the margins of this affluent consumer society, tomorrow night I have a bed to sleep in and a credit card should anything truly untoward happen. I have medical insurance and a valium if I find it overly difficult to sleep. And now I also have a newfound appreciation for just how difficult it must be for anyone who has to do this night after night, worrying about where to sleep or getting moved on, or how to get clean, or where the next meal is coming from. In other words, for the truly homeless.
Thursday, 17 March 2011
Make that four out of four horrible nights spent trying to sleep in a hammock. The takeaway lesson is to get yourself something a little more substantial than nylon between your rump steak and the fresh, dewy breezes of a Florida morning (it also helps if you don’t dream of being eaten by the local wildlife ). this morning proved to be a fairly surreal sequence: get up in the middle of nowhere, make yourself as presentable as you can via water splashed out of a bottle, descend to the road, locate the macdonalds (there is always a macdonalds), and find yourself plunged into a torrent of disney-bound tourists who take little notice of you once they have established that your funny outfit is in no way related to the Magic Kingdom.
at least the queues in macdonalds helped to limber them up for more of the same. it did little to prepare me for my last 80 miles straight into the wind. i always had pictures of coming back from a thousand mile bike ride completely de-fatted, with incredible endurance and calves the size of…well, calves. today was categorical proof that most dreams tend stay that way (i.e. i’ve still got abdominal overhang and chicken legs). plus the ride was gruelling. and that has nothing to do with two guinness at lunchtime (since i’ve done that enough times) and a lot to do with a constant 15/20 mph easterly wind. thankfully, i discovered a biker bar on the outskirts of daytona that seemed to be frequented only by bikers over the age of sixty. unlike nearly anyone else i have met since Jackie MF Bowman, these guys seemed genuinely impressed that i had just cycled to key west and back, and even clubbed together two dollars to buy me a tin of Bud (although part of this may have been a sanity test. could i drink horsepiss from a can?). it turned into a mutual vehicle appreciation moment (one of the guys even confessed, unashamedly, to having an Indian Enfield stashed in his shed), and i left with a nice warm feeling that was definitely not drunkenness.
another 10 windy miles then I crossed the bridge over the halifax river and pulled into the same daytona beach shores from which i had departed 18 days ago. For whatever reason, it felt perfectly natural to press the buzzer and take a lift upstairs to see the family; who must have missed me, since they overcame a very natural horror of roadkill to give me a brief hug, before ushering me toward the shower….
the final 100 meters….