Day 11: Ormond Beach, FL to St. Augustine, FL - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 23, 2011

Day 11: Ormond Beach, FL to St. Augustine, FL

I wake up feeling much better, thanks to my first full night's sleep in more than a week. I take my time pulling everything together and packing up, and then spend an hour looking over maps with Pat as she and Rick try to put together plans for a July bike trip around the Olympic Peninsula in Washington. Talking about places like Port Angeles, Bainbridge Island, Shelton, and Seattle makes me the smallest bit homesick.

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I ride out a bit before noon, back through the park I passed yesterday, and then on to the north. Like last night I'm protected by the pines and palms that grow thick and lean over top of the road. I almost cause myself to crash when a white and black butterfly pops into one of the vents of my helmet, just above my forehead. As I shake my head from side to side, trying to knock him loose, I throw my weight too far to the left and then immediately have to dive back to the right to stay vertical and off the pavement. I wobble back and forth a few times, trying to straighten everything out and thinking about how awesome I look to the cars coming up behind me. When I stop and take my helmet off, the butterfly drops out and sputters to the ground with only one wing still working.

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Soon I'm back at the ocean and there's nothing in the way this time. The colors, sounds, and smells of the coast are all around. A light blue sky draws down into dark turquoise water, which crashes as roaring waves into the beach that shines white and yellow with tiny bits of orange. People swim, surf, and body board as the wind blows in a constant rush from the southeast and carries along with it the strong smell of salt water. Both locals and tourists are out on the coast this afternoon, fishing, laying in the sun, and building sand castles.

I've ridden thousands of miles and read hundreds of touring journals, and they've led me to an important conclusion: bike riding is hard. Mostly because there's always something in the way: a headwind, rain, sleet, snow, wind-blown cow shit, big hills, angry dogs, rushing traffic, or a semi-flat tire that I'm too lazy to pump back up even though it slows me down. But right now there's none of that; this bit of coastline is perfect. I pedal easily in the sun, on totally flat ground, alongside incredibly beautiful oceanfront, with a strong and cool tailwind, and only a few passing cars. I could live to be 95 years old and never see another bit of riding quite like this one.

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I ride along thinking that the only way this could be better is if I could sit in the shade along this amazing stretch of ocean and eat pizza. Less than five miles up the road I pull into Flagler Beach and it gives me exactly what I want: New York-style pizza made by real New Yorkers in a quiet shop that looks out onto the Atlantic. I eat two fat, thin slices of pepperoni in exactly the same way, pinching the middle of the crust, folding the slice in half, and letting the grease drip out of the narrow end. I sit in the shade along a busy sidewalk, watching all of the beautiful people walk by. At least half of them look or sound like they're from Jersey.

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The beautiful riding along the coast lasts for only a few miles after Flagler Beach, and then the highway takes me back inland. It's not an interesting stretch, but with a strong tailwind the miles fly by. I know I'm getting close to St. Augustine when I start seeing long lines of Hampton Inns, Super 8s, and those stupid alligator- and pirate-themed restaurants that tourists love.

I cross the Bridge of Lions, drop my bike and gear off at the Casa Yallaha hostel, and head out on foot into the oldest city in the United States. The Old Town area of St. Augustine is an unusual mix of narrow cobblestone streets, at least a hundred turn-of-the-century buildings, block after block of touristy restaurants and shops, and drunk assholes who say dude and bro a lot riding mopeds, crashing them into curbs, and then laughing hysterically.

The pirate ship—still a legitimate form of transportation in St. Augustine.
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It's Saturday night and the place is swimming with people. Strollers run over my toes and I see a few parents keep track of their children by putting them on a leash. Families and large groups of friends walk five-wide down the narrow and packed St. George Street, their heads tilted slightly back and their mouths hanging open a little. BMW and Volvo SUVs speed madly through the streets looking for a place to park. Horse-drawn carriages clomp slowly past.

The herd.
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When I decide to leave the madness behind it turns into a wonderful evening. I walk slowly and mostly alone through the town's quiet back streets, with the sun sitting low in the sky and the breeze coming off the water keeping everything at a comfortable 80 degrees. It seems like a great place to take a day off and rest up.

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I spend the evening back at the hostel, watch the NHL playoffs on TV, and then take a midnight walk through the warm, sticky, motionless air. I come back, drink Mountain Dew, and write well into the early morning. Even though it's Saturday, everyone else goes to bed hours before me.

Today's ride: 51 miles (82 km)
Total: 616 miles (991 km)

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