Day Thirty (Con’t), Day Thirty One: Race to the Gators

Ten more miles and our shammies have dried thoroughly, side roads reunite with trusty Route 84, a four lane touchstone offering a good shoulder and running all the way to Texas.

We spot a Huddle House — never heard of it, let’s try it! Enter and encounter two suntanned locals & two uniformed women workinjg the diner. Everybody hugely accomodating, Lizzie asks and receives generous opinions on what we should eat, which we don’t deny; wind up with two chocolate milkshakes, a chicken salad, chili bowl, veggie omelet, hash browns and a biscuit. Veggies are heaped on top of everything once Lizzie announces her vegetarianism — not exactly how it ought to work, but it works for us.

Outside Lizzie has a bout of milkshake giddiness, sings Sting “every little thing she does is magic…” in an off key warble, does not see woman walking to car seven feet behind her, woman laughs, redfaced with embarrassment at even having heard the “performance”, sends Lizzie further down goofy street.

T-storms disappear from the weather reports. We telephone a motel in Jesup, advertised at a thrifty $42.50 but tax and the Georgia Hotel Bill 170 add another $11. Still, we need it; our bags have taken on water, Lizzie’s audibly slosh around as she moves them.

Jesup is guarded by another leviathan plant, Rayonier Materials Plant, which plumes soot gray clouds into the air, half suffocates us as we pedal past. The scent does not clear the air until we’re on the far side of Jesup the following day.

8:30AM, Day Thirty One

Distance: 66 mi.

Song of the Day: Desaparecidos — The Underground Man

“You’ll do good business as an apologist / If you exaggerate their facts, if you perpetuate their myths / They made activism trite / They made honor optional / They made propaganda news / They made science radical…” ~ Desaparecidos

Depart the hotel after in slow yawning morning, no coffee supplies to be had; first twenty miles accelerated by cool sub-70 degree breezes and perfectly flat, wide carless roads.

Stop at a gas station for morning gatorade, and Lizzie buys me two peppers and two ears of corn at local farm stand for my birthday. Somehow the peppers were 2 for $1 but the price shot to $3 after the puny corn ears were tallied; we didn’t question it. Another drifter hovers outside the gas station, sizes us up and later approaches. Mid-twenties man with many face tattoos, looks a little beat up but has a pleasant voice and seems friendly enough. He’s hitchhiked back from Austin, and proudly displays a yellow ink Texas tattoo on his left (face) cheek. We chat politely but we don’t throw in much intimacy; guy mentions a few odd non-sequiturs about wanting to attend church but not wanting to leave gas station wifi; half-suggests drinking a beer, unclear if he’s beckoning us and what his intentions actually are; we decline, hang out for another minute but clearly signal our intention to extricate ourselves and leave promptly. Lizzie and I later discuss and agree that others cannot always be invited to join in the path of your adventure. It’s yours and yours alone; be intentional about your kindness and make your own judgments about when it’s time to hang around and when it’s time to get moving.

Little yipper at the gas station
We chanced upon colorful brightbox cabinets not once but twice, inexplicably lining sides of trees in abandoned fields.

12:30PM: Blazingly fast 44 mile trek to Laura S. Walker park, our campground home for the evening. We’ll camp along the lake tonight, lake being center stage for fishing, boating, jet-skis and shrieking children dragged on tubes or floats behind sportboats.

Prop up the tent and lob a few panniers in it to secure it, and we dash off south another 9.6 miles to the Okefenokee Swamp Park! I’ve promised myself a view of the plumped gators for my birthday, and I’m taking Lizzie with me.

Arrive at the gator park just in time to be bamboozled into a stuffy, creaking coal-powered train that tours the small northwest corner of the park. A few of the campground tips are entertaining, but next time I’d walk it.

I somehow miss three gators on the initial entry to the park, later get fair share; I’m even commanded to hold a baby alligator and scratch it’s taught, lemon lime chin.

Park ranger says alligators share DNA with prehistoric birds, not prehistoric lizards.

A sustained calamity takes place in the stilted boardwalk as four vultures lock into a brutal flight over a mini-gator that somebody’s ripped up. Flaring wings up into flight, they claw each other’s heads as they tussle over the stringy morsel; it gets flung off the boardwalk into a gator pit. This changes the whole game. The four vultures tiptoe around a gator who’s taken cannibalistic interest in the baby gator; one vulture gets in a few more pecks, then the gator rushes in, grabs the baby and gulps it down. Nature appreciators often dichotemize humans apart from nature romanticize the animal kingdom; in my experience, Hobbes’ famous comments are more true of the natural environ than our own society. Animals will tear each other to shreds just like we do. Perhaps the only difference is that we know what we do…

7PM: Settle back into the campground and cook a speedy dinner, hunted by hundreds of aggressive gnats, seemingly unphased by our bug spray. A large group of children splash and scream playing “sharks” in the water, while older children cooly mock them from fishing docks.

The sun faints beneath a scattering of pine trees and is soon replaced with an oblong silver saucer moon, which nags at us as we wake from broken sleep to swat at the stray gnats within tent under night sky riddled with stars and planets.