Day 18: Near Adrian, GA to Milledgeville, GA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 30, 2011

Day 18: Near Adrian, GA to Milledgeville, GA

It's cold enough when I wake up that I can see my breath. I start riding before 7:00 and freeze instantly. It only takes a few minutes for my hands to lose most of their feeling and turn stiff, so I stop just up the road to dig through the panniers and pull out my fleece gloves. I know they're in one of the big bags in the back, but I shuffle through them shivering and come up empty. I settle for my bright yellow rain jacket and curse the cold during every one of the 11 miles to Wrightsville.

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I'm reaching in the right-rear bag for my wallet, getting ready to walk into Nana's Kitchen for breakfast, when I hear a guy's voice behind me.

"Yubba gum summa dum grits?"

I turn around and see a 300-pound man with short hair, a thick mustache, and a huge gut looking at me with a smile on his face. My mind runs through the database of all the words I know, trying to find a match for the mess of sounds that just came out of his mouth. I'm about to say nothing and laugh when my brain latches onto the word grits. He must be asking me if I ate my grits, so that I've got the energy I need to pedal this bicycle and all my crap over the hills coming my way.

"Not yet!" I tell him with a grin. "But that's what I'm here for!"

He gives me another big smile as he opens the door of his truck and squeezes inside.

Nana's is an old-looking place with colored aprons hanging in the front windows, crosses and Easter bunnies lining a wide shelf on the far wall, and 13 tables, all numbered. Good old boys with glasses, dirty old hats, and suspenders huddle seven and eight to a table near the center of the restaurant and say things like "Mornin'! How ya'll doin?" I sit along the near wall next to a couple of black families. Everyone else eats and laughs loudly while we watch quietly and feel out of place.

Unless I turn around I can't see the guy who sits behind me. He sounds like an old man, but when I grab a quick peek I notice that he can't be a day over 45. His shirt, pants, and hat are all camouflage-printed and his dark brown work boots are tinted white from working in the dirt. The pants are tucked loosely into the top of the boots. He's very tan, and like most of the guys his age around here he has a thick mustache. He talks to his buddy about hunting, fishing, and fixing cars.

"He dub tohd muh cub dub stah wuhn uhn hun race car," he says, which I roughly translate into, "He told me he was going to come down and start working on his race car."

About 20 minutes after I sit down, he gets up to leave and says goodbye to his friend.

"I reckon I betta get on up and gibba dabba on down hab dep toppa, ya know?" and starts howling with laughter.

Your guess is as good as mine.

I take my time and finally pack up about an hour after I start. I walk over to the counter to pay my bill.

"You ridin' a bike or somethin'?" the waitress asks. She's a sweet Southern girl, maybe 20 years old. I tell her that I am.

"How far ya come?"

"All the way from Florida," I say. "I started in Key West a few weeks ago."

Her bright blue eyes go wide.

"But eventually I'll make it all the way to the West Coast in Washington State."

Her eyes go even wider and her eyebrows poke up. I've come far enough now that more and more people react this way when they find out how far this trip will take me.

The waitress runs through more questions:

"Where do ya stay?"

"Why ya doin' it?"

"Are you graduated or somethin'?"

The more I explain, the more she stares in disbelief, kind of like the kids in Adrian last night.

"Oh mah gawsh" is about all she can come up with in response. For all I know, she's never left the state of Georgia.

I walk to the bathroom feeling great about myself, about everything I've accomplished, and about all of the amazing things to come. Then I look in the mirror and notice that I've had my black long-sleeved shirt on backward all morning. Nice.

Johnson County's second grade students: not the most original bunch.
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I head west with the riding almost as perfect as yesterday, although the wind is gone and it's a little hotter. I pedal up an easy hill and coast down the other side and then repeat the process all morning. I pass at least 30 Baptist churches and spot a few Confederate flags as my love for the people and the natural beauty of Georgia continues to grow.

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This is the third Saturday of the trip. The first two happened in Florida, and in both cases I saw at least a hundred other bike riders out for a morning ride. Today I don't see even one. As the hours pass, the hills start to turn higher and longer. At first it's a good change; it's something different. I like the challenge of pushing to the top and then enjoying the reward of flying down the other side.

Yes he will!
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The excitement lasts for 45 minutes, but the hills keep coming. Stupid hills.

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Sometimes I talk to myself while I ride. Now I'm starting to do it with a Southern accent.

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The dirt along the side of the road turns a darker shade of reddish-brown as I ride farther north. The long stretches of green trees and fields are eventually broken up by mining operations that strip the surrounding hills into textured walls of white and yellow and brownish-pink.

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I fly down a monster hill and into Milledgeville, home to about 20,000 people and the campus of Georgia College & State University, which seems a very redundant name. I ride through the attractive downtown and pull up to a burrito place across the street from the school. As I start to climb off the bike, a group of five young girls walk past me on the sidewalk and then stop.

"Um, sir," says one of the girls, "You have a giant bug on yer back."

Without skipping a beat she walks up to me, gives it a big flick with her index finger, and the bug falls to the ground. Now that's Southern hospitality.

Heading out of Milledgeville on a quiet street a few hours later I get a feeling of anxious excitement in my stomach as I look down at my bike computer.

999.7.

999.8.

999.9.

1000.0.

I just rode my bike 1,000 miles, all the way up Florida and halfway through Georgia. The trip is about one-sixth of the way done and so far it's been almost entirely great. That's what the optimist in my head says. The realist soon pops in and reminds me that I still have at least 5,000 miles to go, that the first thousand were done mostly on the flats with a tailwind, and that it will only get harder from here. But in the moment I celebrate. I'm trying to ride 6,000 miles all the way across the United States and every day I get closer and come to love the experience even more.

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I head nine miles north out of town, up and over still more hills, until I reach the lake-front home of Phil and Diane, my Warm Showers hosts. Within an hour I drop off my gear, shower and change, say hello to Hoover the Whippet and Buster the Beagle, and then find myself in a Dodge pickup, winding through back roads on the way to the restaurant Phil and Diane own. We park in the back and walk through the kitchen that clatters and clanks as the staff work their way through a busy Saturday night. Everyone who passes calls him Mr. Phil.

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Phil is an extremely bright, well-educated Southern gentleman who speaks in smooth, soft tones. He leads me to a table of my own out in front of the restaurant on the patio, where I power through a meatball sandwich and the largest french fries I've ever seen. Soon he and Diane join me and I fill up on amazing food, so much so that Phil practically has to beg me to keep eating. After the sandwich and fries go down it's on to bread and rolls, steamed mussels, chocolate lava cake with cream, White Russians, and glass after glass of cold water.

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The sun heads down and the air gets the slightest bit cool as we talk about the restaurant business, the nearby farm they operate, life in the South, and the many places all over the country that they've lived in the past 30 years. I try to pay for everything I've eaten but Phil says no. I try to tip the young waiter who worked so hard all night to make sure I was taken care of. Phil won't have any of that either. The generosity of the people I meet continues to amaze me.

As we drive home I feel tired, stiff in the legs, and notice my stomach bulging out just above my belly button from everything I ate and drank in the last three hours. Once I fall into the huge, soft, queen-sized bed I'm down for the count immediately.

Today's ride: 71 miles (114 km)
Total: 1,012 miles (1,629 km)

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