Day 8: Melbourne, FL to Titusville, FL - Between the Ends of America - CycleBlaze

April 20, 2011

Day 8: Melbourne, FL to Titusville, FL

Heading north from the west side of Melbourne is a biker's nightmare: four lanes of fast-moving morning traffic, no shoulders, no sidewalks. I grind my way through it by pedaling hard when the traffic breaks, pulling off to let a pack of cars pass, and then doing it all over again. I do this for the first five miles after leaving Ann and John's place and it takes almost an hour.

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Soon I leave the busy roads and ride past one golf course and housing development after another. It's mile after mile of perfectly cut lawns, homes packed tightly together on both sides of the fairways, and carefully named communities like Countrywalk, Woodbridge, and The Oaks of Suntree. Not long after I find myself pedaling along the western side of the Intracoastal Waterway. The road gently twists and turns, running quietly beneath the shade of the palm trees that line both its sides. Expensive houses sit on the left and a narrow strip of land runs to my right, which lets me ride next to the water. It's exactly the scene I had in my mind when I pictured riding in Florida.

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Tom rides up on my left side. He's on a red and black carbon road bike, sports a trim white beard and sunglasses, and he's dressed for speed. He's from Michigan, by way of Louisiana, and he's in Central Florida for awhile to check out the area because he's thinking of moving here. With the help of a cool tailwind we head north along the water toward Cocoa. I tell him about the route I'm taking, the gear I carry, and how I've set the bike up for touring. When I say that I'm planning to head to the library to wait out the afternoon heat, Tom instead points me to a cafe in Cocoa that's supposed to have killer omelettes, wi-fi, and air conditioning. He leads me all the way to the front door before riding off.

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Tom's right. The omelette is one of the best I've ever had. I'm eating and writing half an hour later when I look up and see him walking through the door. We talk for more than an hour about bikes, traveling, life in Louisiana and Florida, and the idea of packing everything up for a few months and heading out across the country. He's retired and sometimes thinks about doing it now that he has the time. I tell him the hardest part is getting started. If he can make the time, get the gear, and book the flights, the riding mostly takes care of itself. I hope he decides to take that leap.

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I spend four hours in the cafe. After leaving I ride north along the edge of the water, just like this morning. The homes are modest, a few small boats sit tied to old wooden docks reaching a hundred feet out from the shore, and there's no traffic. It's everything South Florida couldn't give me. But it's still really hot, especially when I run back into Highway 1, so I stop again because there's no need to rush. I sit on a bench next to the water, looking across the canal at Cape Canaveral and the hangar that holds the Space Shuttle, while a couple of young, tattooed guys drink beer and smoke weed behind a group of palm trees along the shore.

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The sun nearly sets as I ride through the rough-looking town of Titusville and on to the home of Jamie, my Warm Showers host for the night. He's tan, with glasses, an earring in his left ear lobe, and a southern tinge to his voice. He's retired and I assume he's in his sixties, but he talks and moves with more energy than most 22-year-olds. He offers me a Corona as soon as I walk in the door and we spend the rest of the night camped on the green plastic chairs on his screened-in front porch, eating hamburgers and potato chips, drinking beers, and sharing stories.

Passing through Titusville.
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CouchSurfing and Warm Showers have both changed Jamie's life dramatically. He first heard about them five years ago through a friend in Vero Beach, and since then he's hosted more than 50 people and traveled all around most of America and to Europe, Nicaragua three times, and a bunch of other countries I can't remember. I ask him why he keeps going back to Nicaragua.

"To eat, drink, and fuck. Why else?" he laughs. The cost of living there makes it cheap to do all three.

I ask him if he's ever had negative experiences through all of his hosting. He can only think of two: a smelly Scotsman who refused to shower, and a pair of rude girls from Quebec.

"Mostly they were very nice and respectful. But we're sitting there at the table, having dinner, and they just start talking to each other in French," he explains. "It was incredibly rude. And then the next night, we're having dinner and they start doing it again. I'm just sitting there watching them talking in French."

The girls were passing through as they hitchhiked the length of Florida, but before heading out they had to buy two last things for the road.

"The next morning they're getting ready to leave and they ask me to take them to the 99-cent store. I say 'OK, sure.' So we go over to the 99-cent store. They come out with a couple of steak knives. I ask them what the knives are for. They tell me they'll each carry one. That way, if somebody tries to do something to the girl in the front seat, the one in the back will grab her knife and start stabbing the guy up front. That was their plan! I couldn't believe it."

A bit later he mentions that he keeps weapons in the house, that they're loaded, and that he's not afraid to use them. I believe him completely.

Before I head for bed I ask Jamie to pose for a picture so that I can include it in my journal. We turn on all the lights in his kitchen and he stands along the near wall in front of a row of cabinets.

"Alright, give me a big smile and say—"

"Pussy!" he yells out with a huge smile on his face.

He does it because he knows it'll make me laugh out loud, which it does. But the auto-focus on my camera screwed up the first shot, so we have to do it again.

"OK, let's try this one more—"

"Pussy!" he calls out again.

World traveler, gracious host, all-around great guy.
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And again I instantly bust out laughing, experiencing one of the most hilarious moments I can think of, as I stand in the kitchen of a tidy single-wide in the Missile View mobile home park in Titusville, Florida. 20 years from now I won't remember anything about the roads I pedaled today, or the scenery I passed, or what I ate for lunch. But I'll never forget the evening I spent with the most interesting Warm Showers host I've ever met.

I'm exhausted but head to sleep with a smile on my face.

Today's ride: 45 miles (72 km)
Total: 444 miles (715 km)

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