Day 22: Toccoa, GA to Townville, SC - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

May 4, 2011

Day 22: Toccoa, GA to Townville, SC

The quads in both my legs scream out as I walk up to the living room. Bella and Buck tackle me as soon as I reach the top of the stairs and try to make my way to the kitchen, all barks and wet noses and wagging tails. I want to take them with me.

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Within minutes I'm eating again. Bob jokes that I haven't stopped eating since I got here, but he's not far off. Sherry fixed a wonderful dinner with chicken, pasta, salad, pine nuts, bread, dessert, and beer last night, which I powered through only hours after eating an entire pizza and the largest Blizzard I could find on the Dairy Queen menu. My metabolism is out of control. This morning I wake up hungry, as if everything I ate yesterday happened in a dream. Three bowls of cereal, four pieces of toast, handfuls of fruit, and orange juice go down the hatch like it's nothing.

I'm amazed not only by what I eat, but once again by the hospitality and kindness of people who only know me through what I write in this journal. Bob and Sherry are great people and I had the best time spending a day with them on their farm.

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It's cooler, even late in the morning, and I'm freezing by the time I finish the four-mile drop I slogged up yesterday afternoon. From there it's on through downtown Toccoa, past run-down car repair places, second-hand clothing stores, a pawn shop, and old signs for businesses that closed 20 years ago. The place is just big enough to support a Domino's pizza and a Buick dealership.

I speed out of town with a tailwind before stopping up the road at the last gas station before the state line. It's an old, musty-smelling place 40 feet off the highway. I buy two large honey buns as a tribute to Georgia because it seems a suitable goodbye. I rolled into the state just over a week ago with no maps, no guidebooks, and no idea what the place would look like or what I'd find. It rewarded me every day with beautiful countryside, very friendly people, and some of the best bike riding of my life. I'm excited for what's to come, a bit sad to be leaving, but happy to know that I'll always look back on my time in Georgia with nothing but good feelings and awesome memories.

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Soon I ride over a short bridge and into South Carolina. I pedal carefully, watching out for the many deep fissures and pot holes that sit ready to grab the bike's skinny front tire, yank it down into the dirty brown water left behind by yesterday's thunderstorms, and flip me over the handlebars with a quick jolt. Not long after I'm off the highway and on to quiet back roads again, rolling over mostly easy hills, into the shade of the trees running along the road, and then back out into the sun next to huge farms that stretch for a mile at a time. The skies are clear, it's 70 degrees, and the wind is at my back. It's another day of amazing riding.

I almost drop off the edge of the road a few times. I'm distracted by my first view of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which rise as a set of jagged blue and gray lines that cut across the horizon through the haze to the north and east.

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I set out expecting hills and headwinds all day, but instead I fly along easily in the big chain ring. I laugh out loud a couple of times as the wind pushes me over 20 miles per hour on the flat sections—partly out of happiness, partly out of relief that I missed climbing over mountains for another day. SUVs and stations wagons driving home from the nearby elementary school pass me one after another for about 20 minutes during the late afternoon. Each time they roll past I look through the tinted windows and see one or two little heads turn around to get one last look at the crazy guy on a bike.

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"Ever' time I see one a ya guys ridin' a bike all loaded up like that, I think ya must be gone doin' somethin' interestin'," says a guy in a flannel shirt as I get ready to leave the campground office and head down the long hill to my site.

He's in his 60s, wears a trucker hat and dark-tinted glasses, and has a brown and gray mustache, just like every other man over the age of 40 I've seen since leaving Florida. He talks with an accent so thick it's as if he's never left the South, but it turns out he's from Illinois.

"When I was yer age I took me a canoe trip down the Wabash River. Started out the first day paddlin', but then mah arms got too tahrd. I threw away the paddle and let the rivah just carry me on down."

I explain I'm riding across the country, and that eventually I'll make my way through Southern Illinois.

"Well, ya can take the intastate, 57, runs right all the way up the middle. Or there's the 55 that also runs that way, just a little west, take you right on up to Chicago."

I tell him that I'm only hitting the south end of the state, through Carbondale and Chester, on my way between Kentucky and St. Louis, Missouri.

"Oh, I'm from down south theah. Take the first exit off the 64 after ya cross the state line, go up a mile, that's where mah house is."

A lot of bikers don't like it when people they don't know give them directions they didn't ask for, that put them on busy highways or interstates, that they can't even use because the roads run miles from where they want to be. I love it. It brings a smile to my face knowing that this guy who I've never met and will never see again, who isn't a bike rider and can't imagine doing something like what I'm trying, wants to help make my trip a little easier and more enjoyable.

"Why ya goin' to Cahbondale?" he asks me as I start to push the bike to the road. "Ya know someone theah?"

"No, don't know anyone, I just like stopping in college towns when I can. It's a good break after riding out in the country for a week or two."

"Yeah, I hear ya. Plus ya can load up on beer and check out the college girls!"

He laughs loudly to himself and wishes me a safe trip as he walks into the office.

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I set up camp in the early evening just above the shores of Lake Hartwell. The wind blows constantly and the air turns cool the minute the sun falls behind the hills. I bundle up and fall asleep expecting a cold night.

Today's ride: 46 miles (74 km)
Total: 1,218 miles (1,960 km)

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