Day 14: Fort Clinch State Park to near Folkston, GA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 26, 2011

Day 14: Fort Clinch State Park to near Folkston, GA

Nobody runs me over during the night, so I pack up and start to ride by 6:15, back through Fernandina Beach and then over the bridge from Amelia Island to the mainland. I ride along Highway 20 and it's a disaster, with fast-moving traffic, a narrow shoulder with grooved pavement, piles of dirt and rock, and chunks of wood fallen from the semis that roar past every 30 seconds. The conditions get a little better when I pick up some back roads but the traffic stays heavy all morning.

Good riding conditions.
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I ride under I-95 knowing that the river separating Georgia sits only a few miles ahead. But there's a problem. I pass a sign flashing a warning in big orange letters that says the bridge is closed for construction today between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. It's now 9:15. I check the map on my phone and don't find any quick way around. I've ridden 714 miles over more than 13 days in this state and Florida still won't let me go without a fight.

But I won't let it beat me. I start riding north as fast as I can, hoping I'll be close enough to 9:00 that they'll let me pass, or that the road work will be small enough that a loaded bike can squeeze by. Within ten minutes I head past the three large, orange-and-white Road Closed signs and stop next to a construction worker talking on his cell phone. He looks like he's in his mid 50s. His tan is heavy from working outside every day and he wears a thick, silver and gray mustache along with his bright orange-and-yellow vest. When he's done with his conversation he walks up and asks me where I'm going. I tell him.

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"Ahh, you headed up to South Carolinuh, that's mah home state," he tells me in a slow, Southern drawl. "Been down heah in Flahda three yeahs. Goin' back soon, I think. Made a promise to mahself that if I evah crossed that Savannah Rivah headed north, I wouldn't stop goin' 'til I made it all the way back home."

I stand there a little stunned, surprised that such a poetic line just came from a road construction worker in North Florida.

There's only one small truck on the bridge, and this seems like a reasonable guy, so I ask him if I can head over to the other side.

"Ya just stay off to that left side theah and ya'll be fine," he says. "Ya have yaself a safe trip."

And just like that I'm out of Florida.

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Thanks to the road closure, Georgia welcomes me with four miles of my own private highway, a cool breeze, filtered sunlight, and thick forests lining both sides. I stop up the road for breakfast at a diner where waitress calls the older men honey, the older women sweetheart, and the younger people baby. I'm still young enough to get a baby. I've been in the state for less than an hour and I'm already in love with Georgia.

This stretch of road belongs only to me.
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The road out of Kingsland runs perfectly straight for several miles, curves slightly to the left or the right, runs exactly straight for several more, and continues on like this all the way to Folkston. Skinny pine trees line the left side of the highway for much of the afternoon. At first they look natural, like they've been there forever. But when I pass them at just the right angle I see that they sit on a grid, aligned in precise, evenly spaced rows. Now that I've crossed the state line, the Florida Gators front license plate covers I've seen for the last week immediately change to the Georgia Bulldogs. There aren't nearly as many cars, either, and they all give plenty of room. Instead of a breeze off the ocean I get still air, humidity, and pouring sweat.

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The long, straight road to Folkston.
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I leave Folkston in the late afternoon. The temperature sits just below 90. When I reach the campground five miles out of town, sweat runs down everything: my forehead, all sides of my neck, the center of my chest, the top of my butt crack, and from the upper part of my knees all the way down to the cuffed edge of my soaked socks. As soon as I stop the bugs are all over me. I set up the tent and throw all of my gear inside as quickly as I can, swatting wildly at my head and arms and legs the entire time. I sit dripping in the tent for the next 45 minutes.

No spell-check, either.
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I wake up from a nap to see that a few dozen ants have crawled up from the ground and now walk across the mesh of the tent above my head, back lit by the blues and grays of the darkening sky. My half of the campground is absolutely empty and I see only one distant street light. The sun goes down not long after and I start to see strange flashes blip their way past my tent in the darkness. It takes me a moment to realize I'm looking at fireflies, which I've never seen until right now. Hundreds of crickets chirp all around in the hot, sticky, windless night.

Melting slowly.
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The bugs only get worse, and soon enough I have to pee. I know that the moment I step outside they'll be on me, following me all the way into and out of the bathroom, and then hitching a ride back into the tent where they'll buzz me and bite any bit of exposed skin for the next nine hours. I'm mentally preparing myself for all of that when my eyes wander over to the empty water bottle that sits wedged into the far right corner of the tent. Scenes from the movie Dumb and Dumber start to roll through my head.

I sleep soundly and bug-free all night.

Today's ride: 61 miles (98 km)
Total: 749 miles (1,205 km)

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