Day 15: Near Folkston, GA to Big Hammock State National Recreation Area - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 27, 2011

Day 15: Near Folkston, GA to Big Hammock State National Recreation Area

I wake up and load the bike early—partly to get a head start on the heat, but also because it's not that hard. The sun sets by 9:00 this time of the year, and after it's dark there isn't much left to do but sleep when I'm camping. After a long day of riding I'm usually ready for it.

Heart 1 Comment 0

I'm in love with riding early in the morning, heading down the road with my headlight and rear flasher on, getting in some quiet miles under a cool and dark blue sky. This morning it's even better. I backtrack to Folkston and head north out of town on the best road of the trip. A few cars pass me on their way to the start of the morning shift at the nearby state prison, but after that traffic dies entirely and I see one car every ten minutes. The route winds its way past farms and forests, stump-filled lots, and several tiny Baptist churches. Squirrels and raccoons rustle in the bushes. Drivers wave as they head past and I wave right back. The humidity sits above 90 percent in the early morning around here, but with the sun low in the sky it's beautiful. All winter I dreamed about riding on a day like this, on a road like this, and now it's here.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

I take a break at a gas station where the back road crosses the highway. I try to put on sunscreen but my skin is so coated with the dirt and grime of the past two days that it won't soak in; it just swirls around and collects in clumps. As I think about how amazing I look and smell, I pull out to the highway, look to the right, and see a loaded tandem coming my way. It takes me a moment to realize what I'm looking at; I didn't expect to come across any touring bikers until Virginia, a few weeks from now. Mike and Bern Miller left their home in Ocala, Florida a few days ago and are headed up the coast and then on to upstate New York. They plan to stay in motels every night, so they travel light.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Traveling light means traveling fast. And with a tailwind and two sets of legs, the tandem quickly pulls away from me. The breeze today comes strongly from the south—so strong at times that it's fast enough to cancel out the wind noise from riding. When that happens the world becomes suddenly quiet, and all I hear is the smallest bit of squeaking from the chain and the hum of the tires rotating over the ground. I hit 20 miles per hour on the flats without breaking a sweat.

Heart 1 Comment 0

A few miles north of Nahunta I say goodbye to the Millers, who I passed while they stopped in town to rest. Between us we're traveling around 8,500 miles this summer, yet at the beginning of the only eight-mile stretch of overlap we found each other. I think about how incredible it is that our paths crossed as I turn west and start riding down a back road even more lonely than the one from earlier in the morning. I head past a farmer slowly plowing his field on a rusty tractor, and several churches that have been around longer than Washington has been a state.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Two cars pass me in the hour and a half it takes to reach Patterson. I stand in front of the Dollar General store, just before 1:00, with 58 miles already in the bag, and consider my options. The wind still blows strong and it's not supposed to stop all afternoon. On the other hand, I figure it's at least 30 more miles until the next campsite. I take a few seconds to look around the sad strip of highway running through town before I quickly decide to keep going. I mash the pedals and fly out of town to the northeast, all alone on the back roads of Southern Georgia. There's nowhere else I want to be right now.

Heart 0 Comment 0

The miles fly past. Nothing can stop me—not even a closed bridge. It's not strong enough to support cars and trucks, but the surface is clean and unbroken and it's completely safe for me to cross. I have to take the four bags off the bike and walk them across to the other side, so that I can lift the bike over the concrete barriers on both ends, but it's no big deal. Soon after the trees start to give way to sprawling golden fields of wheat and gently rolling hills. The road winds constantly and there's never a straight shot of more than a half mile, but the wind is almost always behind me, providing a silent push to the north. I stretch my arms out to my sides and they feel tight with three days worth of sweat and sunscreen caked on. The wind kicks up dust devils in the open fields and I ride past many tidy Mennonite homes, where every woman I see wears an ankle-length blue denim dress.

Heart 1 Comment 0

In the late afternoon I stop in front of an old, run-down campground in the middle of nowhere, trying to figure out if the dirty-looking store is open. From behind a row of trees I hear a guy's voice with a thick Southern accent.

"Ya can camp heah if ya want!" he yells.

I look around confused for a few moments, before a middle-aged man in a white t-shirt and blue jeans with an uneven buzz cut walks out into the open.

"We still let bikahs stay heah," he explains. "Ya can set up past those two boats, anywheres ovah theah."

It might be the most unappealing camping site I've ever seen. I think he can tell from the look on my face.

"No one'll bother ya!" he says, trying to reassure me. "No need to worry, ya'll be undah mah protection."

I'm already creeped out and this answer only makes it worse. I ask him if the store is open and he says it's been closed for years. I quickly run through reasons to leave in my head. Eventually I thank him and say that I need to get food in Odum first, and then I might come back afterward.

I ride away quickly with no intention of doing that.

Rocket fuel.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I'm hungry; I only ate crackers and Gatorade in Patterson. As the afternoon wears on, the town of Odum starts to take on mythical proportions. In my mind it becomes an oasis. I picture myself walking into a down-home family restaurant, ordering pasta and mashed potatoes and gravy from a waitress that calls me honey, and then amazing everyone when I finish it all in five minutes. After that I'll order another dinner and power through that one, too. Then I'll ask for a piece of apple pie or chocolate cake with ice cream and down that with no problem. Everyone in the place will be so impressed! They'll be even more amazed when they learn I'm riding all the way across the United States and have already ridden 85 miles today.

When I get there, the best I can do is pizza from some national chain restaurant I've never heard of. It's attached to a gas station. No one talks to me. Flies land on my hands and arms and legs as I eat.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

It's past 6:00 when I continue north. It's cooler, the sun's going down, and I figure I have at least 20 more miles to go. I don't stop, my legs aren't sore, and my ass doesn't hurt—I just move as quickly as I can. Soon a nice round 100.00 flashes on the bike computer. I've never gone this far on a loaded touring bike in a day. I figured I might get one or two big days like this on the trip, but not until somewhere wide open and Western like Wyoming or Montana.

Century.
Heart 2 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Just pass mile 107 I fly down a hill, over a half-mile bridge, and pull off into a rocky parking lot. It's empty except for a nearby group of five guys shooting bullets into a dirt hillside. I push the bike past a closed gate, ride about five minutes down a rocky and sandy path, and set up camp in an open, grassy area. Ten minutes after I'm inside the tent, the air buzzes with thousands of mosquitoes. I sit inside and think about what I just did, riding 108 miles on a hot, bright, buggy, 92-degree South Georgia day. I killed it. It's the best day of the trip so far. I'd pay a lot to enjoy a celebratory beer—or even a celebratory deuce. But there aren't any stores or bathrooms for miles around. Instead it's just my thoughts and me, and tonight that's all I really need.

Today's ride: 108 miles (174 km)
Total: 857 miles (1,379 km)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 1
Comment on this entry Comment 0