Day 21: Victoria Bryant State Park to Toccoa, GA - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 3, 2011

Day 21: Victoria Bryant State Park to Toccoa, GA

I made it through the oh-my-god-I'm-sleeping-outside-in-the-dark-with-all-these-strange-noises phase of camping. Now I sleep better deep in the woods on an inch-thick air mattress in a smelly sleeping bag than I do on a cushy bed indoors. I spend a long time flicking bugs off the mesh of the tent before I finally build up the strength to climb out into the cool morning. As I stretch and yawn and look around the quiet forest, I get a big smile on my face and think about how happy I am to be out here crossing America on a bike.

A few miles up the road a couple of dogs—one big and white, the other smaller and black—spot me coming. Their tongues hang out of their open mouths and I can see their little brains at work, trying to process the yellow and brown thing with the wildly spinning legs and clanking gears passing in front of them. Once they realize it's not a car, they're off to the races, running through the grass, past the open gate, and onto the street. But this time when I stop, they stop too. The white one stares at me with a confused, slightly stupid look on his face, his head turned a bit to the side. His tail gives a small wag before his owner calls his name and he and his buddy start heading back the other way. Even the unleashed dogs are friendly in Georgia.

Heart 1 Comment 0

I ride past at least 50 chicken hatcheries in the morning, each holding three or four long and low buildings, with medium-pitched metal roofs, and large ventilation fans at both ends that send the strong smell of chicken shit out into the country air.

Heart 0 Comment 0

I walk toward the door of a convenience store in Carnesville, but an older man in a red, striped shirt gets there first and holds it open for me.

"Thank you, sir," I tell him with a smile and a little head nod. I have no idea where that comes from. It seems a week in the South has already made me more of a gentleman.

The man comes out of the store a few minutes later with a fat stack of lottery scratch tickets in his left hand. He spends several minutes carefully working away at them with a silver coin in his beat-up SUV. When he's finished, he gathers them all up with a look of disgust on his face, opens the car door, steps to the front of the store, and flips them into the garbage can. The door slams shut and he drives off quickly to the east.

Heart 0 Comment 0

Grass grows over the edge of the road and goes thwap-thwap-thwap against the right-front pannier as I speed past. I sound like a song on repeat, but riding in rural Georgia is absolutely wonderful. It constantly reminds me that all of the hard work and planning to make this trip happen was absolutely worth it. Every morning I look forward to what's coming, and while I'm on the road I find myself smiling all the time. I could spend a few more weeks winding my way through the state without tiring of it. I still have about 5,000 miles and 12 more states to go, and I'm looking forward to all of them, but the joy of traveling the empty back roads of Georgia in the long shadows of the morning sunshine will be hard to beat.

Heart 1 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

A few days ago in Reidsville, Mike told me about some of the people he and Bern and their two sons rode with on their 50-day cross-country trip back in 2007. He mentioned that everyone came to really like a guy they called Uncle Bob, who lives in the northern part of Georgia in a town called Toccoa. When I told Mike that I'd be passing through there in a few days, he immediately pulled out his phone and called Bob. He told him that he was sitting next to a guy named Jeff who's riding across the country, and Bob immediately responded that he knew exactly who I am, because he'd read my entire journal. Mike asked him if he'd be willing to put me up for a night at his place and Bob said he'd be happy to do it.

Today I reach Toccoa, but if I want a place to stay I have to earn it, because Bob's house sits three-quarters of the way up the longest hill I've seen since leaving Florida. I grind up slowly in the smallest gear. Sweat pools just above my eyebrows and then drips off onto the handlebars and the ground when I tilt my head to the left.

Here comes the end of the hill. Finally.
Heart 0 Comment 0

I nearly dump the bike at least four times as I rumble down the long gravel driveway that leads me to a beautiful home where I meet Bob, his wife Sherry, and their two Golden Retrievers, Bella and Buck. Buck wears a cone around his head and every so often burps just like a person. Once I give him a scratch or two he won't leave my side and tackles me if I try. He's the most awesome dog I've ever met.

Heart 0 Comment 0

In the afternoon, Bob loads our bikes onto the rack attached to the back of his SUV and we head to the closest bike shop. My front brakes squeal and grab on one side because they're out of alignment, but the friendly and skilled mechanic fixes the problem with just a few turns of the wrench. As he's filing a nick out of the left side of the rear rim he tells me that the whole thing will need to be replaced some time soon. I more often use the back brakes to stop the bike than the front like I should. When combined with the hard pads, all of the wet weather riding I do in the Northwest, and the fact that I haven't really touched the front brakes in the last 1,500 miles because of the squealing, the thin, flat face of the rim has started to turn very slightly concave. It's wearing out. If the rim comes apart at any time I'm in trouble. I try not to think about what would happen if it splits at speed.

I ask the guy if I should buy a replacement soon, or if the thing still has some miles left in it.

"I don't think you'll make to the end of ya journey on this one," he says seriously.

Not what I want to hear. But I'm relieved that I know about it and can start to put together a solution, rather than bomb down the big hills of the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians, riding the back brake the whole way, totally unaware of the problem spinning directly below my ass.

Back at the house I spend a few hours in my room downstairs, sinking down into the soft and comfortable king-sized bed. The room is beautiful, but also a PETA member's worst nightmare. There's a leather saddle in one corner, a huge leather chair and ottoman in another, some kind of animal pelt on the floor in front of the door, the skin from a Bobcat-looking thing placed on top of the dresser, bookends made from antlers, a couple of rifles and a lasso, and, most impressive of all, a fully stuffed coyote. It sounds ridiculous, but Sherry is a very talented designer and the room looks amazing, like something out of a magazine.

After a delicious dinner I ask Bob about the coyote.

"I always wanted one," he says. "One day my neighbor across the street—he used to be a game warden—he calls me and tells me he just found a coyote along the side of the road. It was roadkill, a fresh one."

It used to sit upstairs in the living room, above the television, but was later demoted to the bedroom and replaced by a fancy wooden basket.

Heart 0 Comment 0

The hills coming my way keep popping up in conversation. When I complain about the big one I had to ride up to get to his place, Bob just laughs. He then tells me some obscene numbers about the total elevation gain and steep grades of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the roads leading onto and off of it. I become even more intimated about what's ahead of me. I tell him I might just find religion out there.

An evening thunderstorm knocks out the power, so I head to bed with the help of a flashlight and fall asleep under the watchful eye of an unmoving coyote.

Today's ride: 38 miles (61 km)
Total: 1,172 miles (1,886 km)

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