Day 20: Oconee River Campground to Victoria Bryant State Park - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 2, 2011

Day 20: Oconee River Campground to Victoria Bryant State Park

I get my best night's sleep of the trip and have trouble pulling myself out of the warm sleeping bag and into the cold morning. Sunlight filters through the high clouds that rolled in during the night, and as I ride in the early light a long outline of a bike rider follows me off to the left side. On the slow uphills I pick off spider webs spun onto the handlebars and shifting cables overnight

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Within seven miles I leave the highway, pick up a back road, and wind my way up and over tiny rolling hills. It's cold on the descents when the clouds park in front of the sun, but it's awesome riding so I don't mind. I pass by white and brown picket fences, small farms, an overgrown baseball field, and an abandoned golf course. The route keeps me off busy roads and mostly by myself all morning. I only pass through one town, which isn't much more than a post office, a few churches, and a couple of blocks of small houses. I start to hear cicadas again, but today they're quieter and farther off in the distance.

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I'm thinking about people I went to high school with and singing Grizzly Bear songs to myself when I push over a short rise and around a corner and see a herd of goats shuffling toward me along the side of the road. There isn't anyone around; they're making their escape. A woman in a dark blue Dodge Durango stops next to me a moment later and rolls down her window.

"Are these yours?" she asks me in a sweet and concerned voice.

I've been asked a lot of strange things on my way across the country, but this is a first. I'm not sure she realizes how unlikely it would be for a fully loaded biker to travel with a herd of a dozen goats in all shapes, sizes, colors, and ages. The question puts a huge smile on my face and it takes everything I have not to bust out laughing.

I tell her as nicely as I can that they aren't mine and she quickly heads off to call the Sheriff. Apparently these guys get out all the time.

Looking very guilty.
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And then back to the escape.
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I reach the top of a long hill and see the surrounding countryside open up in front of me. Water towers for the nearby small towns poke above the trees and the adjacent hillsides sit spotted with patches of bright yellow flowers. When I fly down the other side at 30 miles per hour, a large bug hits my left forearm, explodes on impact, and leaves a warm, sticky, yellow splatter like a paintball strike. A few minutes later I reach the town of Colbert, having proved that it's painful but possible to ride through 37 miles of rolling Georgia Piedmont on only a honey bun, a Moon Pie, and three-quarters of a bottle of water.

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I love Speed Zone Ahead signs. They tell me I'm almost to a town, which means water or honey buns or something else delicious. This afternoon I see one as I pull into Danielsville, where I plan to spend a few hours dodging the heat and working in the library. The map on my phone tells me the place is actually three miles east, not in the direction I'm headed. It seems strange that they'd put a library that far away from town, but I head out anyway. Three miles pass, then four. I don't see it and it's obvious I won't. It's hot, my legs burn from the past few days of climbing, and I know I still have 15 miles past Danielsville to ride. Now I have to head four miles back the way I just came, into the wind, for nothing. My right hand turns into a fist and I slam it down on the handlebars so hard that the bottom of my palm hurts. I curse all the way back to town.

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Georgia has a ton of roads. This means a lot of crossroads. This also means a lot of gas stations and markets that pop up seemingly in the middle of nowhere. I'm tired and dragging and still a little angry, so I stop at the first one I see. Inside, two women are having a conversation with a cowboy—an actual cowboy, with the kind of hat you'd see in the movies or on TV, jeans tucked into boots with functioning stirrups that jingle when he walks, and a knife slipped into a leather holster at his hip. His huge, expensive Ford truck sits outside, with the engine on, because no one around here would ever dream of stealing it. The woman behind the counter recently gave the man a cow skull she found.

"I thank ya for it," he says. "Just gotta find somethin' ta put on it."

She suggests he attach a pair of longhorns. "Yew kin get some on eBay," she explains as I pay for my orange soda.

"Is that the place up the road, near, uh, up on 441?"

"No, eBay. It's not the flea market. It's on the computah."

"It's on the innernet thang," the other woman chimes in.

"Ah yeah, I hearda that," the cowboy says. "Know how ta use the email, too."

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Before I ride away, a local guy in a dirty pickup warns me about a huge hill just up ahead. He isn't kidding. It's a ball buster—long and steep with several switchbacks and false tops. I close my eyes for a few seconds as I round a corner near the finish and the smallest cool breeze hits me in the face. Amazingly, it's the big hill that knocks me out of my bad mood. I feel better, faster, and stronger as I continue north with long lines of puffy white clouds stretching as far across the sky as I can see.

Small, green, ladybug-shaped insects land on me all afternoon. I flick them off with my index finger as I climb the hills to distract me from the hard work. I continue to see the University of Georgia logo all day, every day—on license plate frames, bumper stickers, banners in front of houses, posters, billboards, and even on the little red flags that pop up from the side of the mailbox to let the mailman know there's an outgoing letter. A few days ago Phil told me that the two most popular religions in Georgia are Baptist and Bulldogs football. He's right.

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Royston is the home town of baseball legend Ty Cobb. Everything has his name on it: the welcome sign, a city street, all of the police cars, and the hospital. I'll always remember it as the place where a bird sitting on a telephone line pissed on me as I looked down at my map.

Pete guides me to my campsite at the state park in a loud, dented, rusting old golf cart that clanks over every little bump in the road. He's the campground host. He's in his 70s, wears a dirt-stained hat, and talks with the same sort of slow Southern accent as everyone else around this area. Squirrels run all along the path as we head down a short hill. This prompts Pete to tell me that he's from Southern Mississippi, and that back when he was a kid they used to eat squirrels all the time. He sounds a bit sad when he admits that people don't do that sort of thing anymore.

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It's Monday in early May, so the state park is almost entirely empty. I set up at the best site since my first night in the Florida Keys, under a covered wooden pavilion, partially built into a hill and elevated on pilings above the surrounding forest floor. I spend the evening alone, relaxing as crickets chirp, a single bird calls loudly, insects buzz and crawl everywhere, and the squirrels try to run as far away from Pete as they can.

Today's ride: 69 miles (111 km)
Total: 1,134 miles (1,825 km)

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