Day Thirty Eight: To Pensacola

6AM: Wake on shower stall floor under bright fluorescent lights, sleep pad now regrettably soggy; text Lizzie “I’m up” and pack hurriedly as a man enters and starts a shower two stalls down. I chuckle and make innane side comment, as if to distinguish myself as a person who rarely sleeps in public restrooms — I later feel pang of contrition. I’m not at all different from that “kind” of person. People don’t fit into ‘kinds” once viewed beyond the reifying categories we insert them into.

Meet Lizzie on a balcony still plagued by a pronounced breezy rain. Smartie didn’t sleep on the floor, she pushed two benches together and slept there — though apparently she tried tightroping on a single bench for a few hours until convinced she was alone for the night and grabbed the second.

A few women flip-flop up the steps and ask for picture with our bikes; they talk with Lizzie in women’s bathroom, a dark continent to me, I don’t listen in.

73 miles today — will the weather hold? Will the prior night’s exhaustion hole us up at a halfway point? I goof on Lizzie, majestically presenting her with remaining food, a single Special K cerial bar; munch it down and off we go.

First ten miles over resort town, early morning dog walkers chasten leashes excessively as we pass — do we look mean? A man stares wistfully at ocean gales on a top-floor wooden beach house balcony; perhaps he’s sulking over alterior ways he could’ve spent money now sunk into an overpriced vista of the shit weather; “I could always watch The Godfather,” I ventriloquize to his mind.

A bridge vaults us over to Okaloosa Island towards Wynnehaven beach. 98 is set back from the highway, we re-enter civilization for a brief moment looking for a coffee. Coffee shop claims to be a “roaster” — walk inside and it’s clearly all bulk ordered beans with some fake equipment. I’m too tired to think and I order a macchiato from the teenager working the place — $3.25 and it comes back a vaguely coffee colored cup of warm cream. We each try a few sips but it’s utterly undrinkable — I know some of you know me as a coffee snob, but I swear I’ve exorcized my old ways. This truly was nasty stuff. There’s a gigantic beer festival starting up in the park behind the coffee shop, but today’s no day for a 10AM beer.

Slumping at a reduced pace I reflect on the prior night’s calamaties. Lizzie is certain we jettisoned the tent at the exact right moment, and encourages me to feel positive that we made a smart decision. I do feel positive; but I also feel shaken, in a more fundamental way, after witnessing the tonnage of rain gales and lightning strikes delivered the night prior. If flooding had gotten really spectacular — or if Lizzie and I had been separated by more than bathroom stalls — what would I have done? I shudder away the question but make a mental note to hash out basic agreements w/ Lizzie should we ever become separate or unable to communicatevia phone. A GoTenna practice exercise wouldn’t be a bad idea (GoTenna is a device we’ve brought to communicate via short burst radio should our cell reception fail.)

1PM — The Shark Bite taco truck I’d hyped to Lizzie as a dirty ploy to squeeze further miles from her winds up closed. We circle the parking lot and eye the bridge looming behind — decide to stock up on calories and food. Lizzie orders two large smoothies and a few salads, and I head in the Wynn-Dixie. I exit the store in a smug saunter — $20.88 and a heaping load of food, including two pounds of carrots, a pound of broccoli and two whole boxes of protein bars.

TODO — Lizzie fill in story about the photographer & British girl

3:30PM: Bomb it over the bridge and head westward down Navarre beach’s pristine white sands. Now, this is truly a terrible place to develop vacation homes. The entire island is barely 100m wide; the sand-blown lots are practically screaming out “NO, this is not a good place to build your houses.” And yet we do.

Approaching the end of the island we sidle up against a “nesting area” on our right hand side. Trucks occasionally rip down the road at 50, 60 , 70 miles per hour, so much for nesting; but the Egrets — precious about their nests, but also petite bullies of the sky — seem to decide we’re easier targets, cutting through the headwinds to swoop and dive at our faces. It’s funny a one or two time but SEVERELY alarming at other points. It’s as if they wait until their beaks are an inch from your ear to screan “GAAAAAAAAAAAAHWL” — sends us careening around on the shoulder, doesn’t really get any less startling even after a dosen or so attacks.

One defecates on me so I imitate in intentionally bad euro accent: “Youu sii don’t youu, vaan mooohment agoogh I vaas neestingh; youu interrupt me, startle baybiy beerds; now I shiiit on you, now I tuuurn tables on you monsiuer!”

Kyle: “Why?
Kyle: “What do you mean they h-”

6PM: We bump and thump over the Pensacola Beach Bridge’s sandy shoulder as truck springs, safety glass and shredded tire bits pelter around in our tires or spin off passing cars. It’s not as bad as it sounds, especially with a cool breeze and a few white yachts out on the bay, offsetting the drab green-gray waters under charcoal sky. Coasting down the final shoulder of the bridge exit to Pensacola I drift into Wayside Park, toss the bike against a picnic table practically before stopping to properly dismount, and collapse on top of the table. That’s enough wind for me today, thanks. We listen to a family of true assholes ostracize their small son, then mock his effort to establish distance from the family by taking his toys into the park under a tree. The sun-coarsened father is cooking chicken, his skin tanned to an uneven hide, shoulders and neck T-boned in a Trumpish cut. He grimaces at us, turns away in despondent defiance as we laugh and heave our sighs of physical exaltation.

7PM: Drag into the Handlebar, the place we’re expecting to meet our Warm Showers host. It’s a gloriously old and well-come punk dive; the bartender smokes and serves us a couple beers, affirms that “Josh” is in fact the manager of the bar and should be working a shift at 9PM. Bill, a Big Lebowski-esque old hat who used to bartend himself, fills us in on where we are, which is a resurrected old building first opened as a black working class bar when Pensacola was an industry town. Bill shows me where a fire reduced the three-room bar to a single open space. “Jimmy” comes in and tells war stories, not his but from soldiers he once knew. He seems momentarily embarrassed by his own openness; then makes a quick turn-of-phrase and starts jabbing my ribs and wrestling me. A couple of people are getting high in the backyard, teaching each other guitar chords. “Molly” a runt of a dog runs around Jimmy’s legs — then 60 minutes comes on, Jimmy’s favorite show, and everybody is asked to shut the f — - up. Ai WeiWei is on and everybody is hooping and hollering in support.

Yeah, this will do for the night.

I saw David Lowery play with the band Cracker later that night at a downtown club., leaning on the bar in the back of the venue, experiencing the fullness of an incredible musician.