Day 16: Big Hammock State National Recreation Area to Reidsville, GA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 28, 2011

Day 16: Big Hammock State National Recreation Area to Reidsville, GA

The bugs attack me as I take down the tent. I ask them to stop biting the bejeezus out of me, but those assholes never listen.

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Yesterday's sun is gone, covered up by dark clouds, but the wind still blows strong as I head to the northwest. It's warm and sticky, I ride mostly through the forest, and it's quiet with no traffic. I start thinking about baseball, about the songs that play whenever a player for the home team comes up to bat. I spend the next half hour trying to figure out what my entrance music would be if I played in the pros. It needs to be something upbeat but family-friendly, and has to be catchy and memorable. I run through long lists of pop and classic rock and indie songs, singing them to myself along the shoulder of an empty country highway. I pass a sign marking the start of the Rogers State Prison grounds and suddenly it hits me:

"I Predict a Riot" by the Kaiser Chiefs.

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The prison grounds stretch for miles and include farms, a meat processing plant, water reclamation basins, a convenience store, a cemetery, and at least a hundred small houses—all of them plain white—where the warden and officers live. The main prison building sits imposingly in the middle of it all. It also gives my trip its second connection to Burt Reynolds: he filmed the movie The Longest Yard here in 1974.

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A few miles up the road I hit Reidsville, riding through the first small rain drops of the trip. I stop for breakfast at the awesomely named Huddle House. It's just down the street from the library, which is directly across from a Dairy Queen. A state park sits just outside of town.

I've found my home for today.

I spend hours in the library catching up on the journal. It's a labor of love, but the amount of labor is getting ridiculous. I sit next to a giant window and watch the dark gray clouds fly past. They dump buckets of rain, flash white with lightning, and rumble the ground and the walls of the building with thunder that sounds and feels not far off. I check the weather. It says that some of the coming thunderstorms may be severe with damaging winds, large hail, and tornadoes. Tornadoes! Last night I camped in the woods with no cell phone reception. I had no idea any of this was coming. I'm immediately relieved I pulled such a big day yesterday and ended up in Reidsville literally minutes before the first part of the storms rolled in.

I step outside for a moment to grab something out of the bags attached to my bike when one of the locals walks through the door. She's in her late 50s or early 60s, very tan with deep blue eyes, wearing glasses with thick black frames. It's dumping rain. As she pulls out a cigarette and lighter I ask her if it rains like this a lot around here.

"Naw, it hasn't rained much at all this yeah," she says in a Southern accent turned deep from years of smoking. "In fact, we got some real nice weatha ahead. The next few days s'posed to be very nice."

I tell her I'm happy to hear it. Bike riding's hard enough without having to outrun a tornado.

"This bad weatha's been all ovah the nashnal news," she continues. 'Tornadahs in Alabama and Tennessee and so on, killed sumthin like 140 people. Even a few up in Georgia, north a heah.'

The weather doesn't mess around in the South.

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I check the journal of the Millers, who I met yesterday. First I notice it's recently updated. Then I realize they're in Reidsville, too. I leave a message for them and half an hour later Mike calls me. They're just a few blocks down the street, set up in a bed and breakfast and doing their best to avoid the storms.

I planned on camping at the nearby state park, but the weather's awful, my hygiene's a disaster, and Mike and Bern keep raving about the place they're staying when I meet up with them at the library. I cave and decide to grab a room. As I wait to check in I talk with the man who owns the place. He's originally from Washington and lived for many years in the southeast part of the state, in the Tri-Cities, where Desiree grew up. He used to run a 100,000-acre hunting ranch near there, a place where rich guys would fly in on Learjets for the chance to drive out into the country and kill big game animals with high-powered rifles. I say that he must have a lot of good stories to tell. He lets out a big laugh.

He thinks my story is interesting, because he calls the county newspaper and suggests they send someone over to interview the strange bikers staying in town. Within the hour Mike, Bern, and I are all sitting in their room talking to Chrissie, a young reporter for the Tatnall Journal. She learns enough to write a book about bike touring as the three of us hit her over the head with the arcane details of our routes, what we carry, where we sleep, how much we have to eat every day, and why we do all this ridiculous stuff in the first place. Before leaving she takes pictures of us with our bikes on the front porch. On this afternoon we're local celebrities.

Locally famous.
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I spend most of the evening with Mike and Bern, first on a run to Dairy Queen, and then for a gourmet dinner of hot dogs and a grilled cheese sandwich at the diner down the street. It's hours of bike touring geek-out as we talk about climbing mountain passes, avoiding dog attacks, meeting wonderful people and making new friends along the road, the art of riding a tandem, and the general awesomeness of crossing America by bicycle. I go to bed with a smile on my face.

Today's ride: 24 miles (39 km)
Total: 881 miles (1,418 km)

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