Well, we finally crossed a state line. It’s crazy how a little bit of zig-zagging leads to almost two weeks of bicycling across Florida from east-west. Today after lunch I finally rode over (yet another) bridge and into Alabama. We’ll be here for a total of two nights, then one in Mississippi and on to Louisiana. New Orleans is coming up quickly.. The hype is building with every person who hears that’s where we’re headed. The place has a reputation.
Speaking of bridges, the highlight of the day was probably 3 Mile Bridge on the way west into Pensacola. With signs before it that read: CHECK FUEL / LONG BRIDGE AHEAD and signs on it that said REPAIRS AND CHANGING TIRES ILLEGAL ON BRIDGE / $25.00 FINE, I was awfully glad that I fixed my first flat tire of the trip about a dozen miles prior to riding out over the ocean. I would’ve hated to blow nearly two days’ budget on a ticket for making sure my bike would keep rolling…
Being on the road, so exposed to the elements, so intimately connected to your surroundings, your senses are bludgeoned and beat down. But, like a good workout, you don’t see gains without pain. Eyeballs that are fatigued by a glut of sun and so much intense staring ahead begin to wonder if you ever see living armadillos. Ears that are washed out by the click-click of well-worn gears and endless road noise can identify most any exhaust note and tire noise as vehicles not-so-subtly creep up behind you. I swear 87 octane exhaust smells different from 93, diesel is just too easy. Death smells the same whether it’s a six ounce bird or a sixty pound deer. I often wonder how every crushed thing ends up so perfectly on the shoulder of the road… I’ve always been notorious for noticing certain details, which I attribute to my buddhist-like desire to avoid stepping on even the smallest critter. On a bike, things are in your realm for much longer than they would be in a car. You’re less isolated from the elements. I can taste the rain, and I can even taste the salty, sunscreen-laden sweat that the hot southern sun pulls out of me. Rain has its sounds, overcast days have theirs, direct sun a different soundtrack from still nights. I feel deep pain and soreness, lingering stings, bites, and love bugs tormenting me with their passive clinging and crawling. Every sense has its place, and every place can assault and/or delight a sense.
Da Durty South
It really is amazing how much hospitality has been showered upon us lately. An open, luxurious home in one of the loveliest beach communities in the country. A time-capsule double wide just west of Gulf Breeze, Florida with more nonchalant, sincere generosity than I have ever seen. Laughs and rural Canadian accents and car keys and meals and beds. Hilarious dogs. A tiny township situated on a forgotten river in between a big city and a major beach destination. Family recipes, another laughter-inducing accomodation setting, trout getting airborne in a glassy eddy, rudely interrupting flowing conversation and flowing pinot noir. Stories, tangents, dinner chatting at Italian volume. Pontificating on my latest theories about how Forrest Gump-style finish lines might be better than sexy coastal ones. Speaking of which, Winston Groom used to live just across the river from where I am writing now, in Magnolia Springs, Alabama.
Hosted by relatives, I am in full-on relaxation mode. Sitting on the dock, watching the sun set behind the clouds and the water flow right by, I got truly lost in the moment. I realized that the setting was highly Kodak-worthy, but out of exhaustion and a desire to ‘live in the moment’, I conscientiously neglected to seek my camera. Good conversation and a little bit of nature can create quite a potent combination.
I chose not to bring an iPod, computer, or any other music playing/internet accessing device on this trip. Internet access is limited to hosts and public libraries, and I only hear music when I am in restaurants that are playing it. It really heightens your appreciation for what music means to human beings. I play certain snippets of songs over and over in my head, digesting them until they dissolve and get replaced by a thought or another snippet. Stumbling upon a free concert in Seaside, Florida a couple of nights ago was quite an experience. A female-fronted folk outfit, Madeline (and Black Velvet) played over an hour of dreamy, lilting harmonies that really carried me into a deep place. Songs I had never heard before became some of my favorites, at least for that moment. I got the opportunity to hang out with the band for the rest of the night, and it really does continue to amaze me how similar we all are. Stuck in that weird performer-audience member eye contact for a super long time (no complaints though!), it was hard to imagine how many philosophies it turns out I share with Madeline, or what sorts of projects her drummer gets into when he’s not playing with Black Velvet.
I still cannot shake the Avett Brothers’ At the Beach, and the list of records I’ll be playing start to finish as soon as I return home continues to grow. It’s good to really unplug and abstain from as much as possible. I enjoy a grilled cheese and potato chips as much as an onion tart, salad, and entirely homemade Italian pasta and dessert, and incidental Nickelback is almost as nice as overhearing Jack Johnson on a restaurant patio. Almost. On a trip like this, if you can’t find the value in everything, you won’t last long. On to Dauphin Island, Alabama tomorrow for a nice ferry ride and a night of camping.