Day 19: Milledgeville, GA to Oconee River Campground - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 1, 2011

Day 19: Milledgeville, GA to Oconee River Campground

Yesterday's hills hit me harder than expected. I sleep for 11 hours. Because it's so late in the morning when I finally wake up, I expect to pack up my stuff, load up the bike, say a few thank yous and goodbyes and then head back out onto the road. But as soon as I walk past the kitchen, Phil asks me what kind of juice I want and sets to work heating up the leftovers from an earlier breakfast. We spend half an hour eating together, talking touring and camping, and trying to figure out whether the route I've hacked together for the next couple of days will treat me well.

Every Warm Showers host, across the board, has been wonderful on this trip—but Phil takes things well beyond that. I'm far from home, in a place I don't know, and spend most of my time outside by myself. It's an incredible feeling to step away from that for a night, enjoy a shower, a comfortable bed, good food, and intelligent conversation with a friend I've only just met. The amount of trust and generosity that goes along with it means so much to me. I ride up the gravel driveway from Phil and Diane's place feeling reinvigorated about the trip, the country I'm riding through, and the people who live here.

Heart 0 Comment 0

The cicadas scream in the trees as I pedal past. Sometimes they sound like police sirens. Others it's like traffic rushing by at 75 miles per hour on the freeway. A few times I feel like I'm in a movie, listening to a UFO hovering directly over my head. The noise goes away occasionally but always comes back in another mile or two. I head toward the north and east. Cars rush by on their way home from church, while trucks with boats on trailers speed loudly toward one of the two big nearby lakes. Even though I only see the water when I cross a narrow, low-lying bridge, I know it's close by. The small stores in the area dedicate half their space to food and home items, and half to a huge collection of roads, bait, nets, oars, life jackets, and other fishing gear.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

The big muscles in my legs feel tight and sore. Tiny zaps of pain spark in both knees. I tell myself it'll pass, but ultimately I know I'll feel something like this for most of the next five weeks. This trip is like baseball; the ride up through Florida and Georgia was the off-season—get the workouts in and stay in shape, but don't push too hard and strain something. The next few days will be like spring training—the challenge increases but I still have the chance to ease into the longer and more difficult hills. Once I hit the Carolinas, Virginia, and Kentucky I'll be into the big leagues—long, steep, punishing hills, day after day, week after week. But there's no need to hurry today, so I ride slow.

Leading with the effigy. Smart.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

I cross Lake Oconee and into a strange town. It might be called Reynolds because I see that name all over, but it's so new that nothing comes up on the map. With its golf courses, a Ritz-Carlton resort, and new and suburban-looking homes, grocery stores, and strip malls, it's like a small blast of Coastal Florida or Southern California dropped into the middle of Georgia. As I pedal away from it all, Black Lincoln Town Cars and Chevy Tahoes speed past me, taking businessmen and old people on vacation back to the airport in Atlanta. By the early evening I pass through the restaurant wasteland of Greensboro, almost get run over by a left-turning car on the way out of town, and continue riding to the north. The highway runs between Greensboro and Athens, the biggest city around here. I worry about being run off the road, but traffic turns out to be light and friendly on this Sunday night.

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

I set up the tent at a Forest Service campground 13 miles up the road, just on the northern edge of the Oconee National Forest. It's a small place that's mostly empty. I sit at the picnic table, devour a honey bun, and flip through a copy of the world's most ridiculous newspaper, which I picked up back in Greensboro. It's called Bad & Busted and its taglines read "The only paper with all of your local arrests!" and "Sex offenders included!" Classy. I still can't believe a thing like this exists as I look at page after page filled with mugshots, conveniently separated by county. The people lucky enough to reach the front and back covers have their pictures shown in color. Most of the crimes are something minor: Cassandra Jilks and Jihad Dennis were both arrested on a probation violation, Raymond Doster for public drunkenness, and Howard Dixon for driving without a license. Then there's Kerry Kane, sent to jail for aggravated assault and terrorist threats; Anthony Patterson for child molestation; and Corey Sutton for armed robbery. Ironically, Duane Outlaw's only crime is theft by taking. I feel sad for the men and women pictured in the paper and their families, happy that I'm not one of them, and a little creeped out knowing that every day I ride past at least a couple of people capable of doing these awful things.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

Around 9:00 a Chevy truck pulls into the site across the way. The engine runs and the headlights stay on as a mom and her son and daughter pop out, open and close doors and tailgates every few seconds, and shuffle things in and out of the truck and their tents. A few minutes later the mom hears a loud rustling along the hill above me.

"Sssh! There's somethin' in the woods!" she screams at her kids in a hushed yell.

A few seconds pass as she listens to it crack slowly over branches and bushes.

"I'm not goin' out there without mah gun!" she tells them.

This is Central Georgia, I think to myself. We're not in the mountains. It can't be anything worse than a raccoon. She decides otherwise and starts to walk through the campground, shining her flashlight all over, looking for a bear or a mountain lion or something else huge and nasty. Eventually the light points in my direction.

"What the ... What is that thing? Is that a teent up theah?"

I yell something out because I don't want her to shoot me by mistake.

"Whoah!" she yells out. "Ya scared me half to death!"

Good choice of words.

Mom can't find anything on foot, so she piles the kids and the dog back into the truck and does a slow lap around the campground road, with the flashlight hanging out the window and the high beams on. I lay on my stomach in the tent, on top of the sleeping bag and air mattress, patiently watching and waiting for the crack of a shotgun blast.

It never comes and eventually mom gives up. She parks the truck and spends the next 20 minutes loading and unloading enough gear to stock a small store. The truck engine and lights stay on again, she and the kids yell at each other, and the dog barks every 15 seconds. It's a quiet, feel-good night in the woods.

I fall asleep looking up at the stars through the trees, listening to two medium-sized somethings crunch along the hillside.

Today's ride: 53 miles (85 km)
Total: 1,065 miles (1,714 km)

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