Day Thirty Four: The Drop Down to Tallahassee

Distance: 43 mi.

Song of the Day: Sonic Youth — Genetic

7:40AM: “HEY. HEY. I think we need to get up now…” Early morning stargazing must’ve exacted quite a toll, as I’ve outslept Lizzie for the first time in thirty three days, and very possibly forever!

We stroll the premises, discern on all sides the hand-crafted beauty Willis has imbued into the already stunning natural landscape. His grandfather purchased the plot in the 50's; Willis retreated from his own global wandering eight years ago to return to his family’s land, patiently rebuilding the house and creating his own universe of visual ease and splendour.

We soon find shirtless brawned-and-brawns Willis wrenching at an electric table saw in his open walled but sophisticated work shed. We strike an astonished pose as Willis pulls back a tarp, derobing his latest project: four thick wooden pylons mark where a sauna will be squared into the back of his zen garden. Willis is mixing his own cement, employing a “woodcorking” technique (wc?) to form a housing structure five feet high; a three foot opal glass panel will then be slotted on top, allowing light to streak into the sauna. Willis is fabricating the panel from the bases of hundreds of Farmer’s Daughter wine bottles glued together into even cylinders and cemented together.

I knocked on it to test the sturdiness. It’s much sturdier than my knuckles.

10AM: Cease skulking around Willis’ encampment to foam roll my gams a few times. We slosh down the last traces of coffee, pack Marrakesh and Tilly and head for Tallahassee.

We are eased out of Thomasville by a few low-traffic highways, still busy enough to warrant raised advertisements. Catch an advert for a “mission” on a bend in the road, winds up being “transmission repair.” The terrain is the hilliest we’ve encountered since North Carolina. It feels good to try out dormant supporting muscles during the climb, and I experiment with a new upright position wherein I grip only the top-caps of the brakes. (I later explain it to Lizzie but apparently she discovered the grip weeks ago.)

Vibrant white and green water lilies in a freshwater pond. On the left, note the obnoxious rumblestrip technique. Do you really need four feet of rumblestrip?

Noon: Hit the Florida line and it delivers us heavenly smooth pavement, equipped with dedicated bike lanes, very rare on highway routes.

An hour later we’re dropping South into Tallahassee and I spot “New Leaf Co-op”. I realize it must be the health food store Willis spoke about, and we abandon our later perquisition for a vegan lunch buffet to eat healthy food NOW.

I grab a large food tray, build a king size bed of rice and beans, and pile on tofu lo mein, chicken teriyaki, broccoli, and carrots. I find room for a chocolate banana smoothie, too. Lizzie eats two vegan salads and a slice of key lime pie.

This bad boy looked like he didn’t want to be witnessed shopping at a health food store.

2:30: Bags are restocked and bellies are bulging as we mount bikes to finish the day — that’s OK because we have a dedicated lane, right?

Wrong. Afternoon traffic accumulates on the bell-shaped hills cupping Tallahassee’s northern city limits; then directly before a grueling uphill, the lane drops away entirely, leaving an unmarked right hand lane shot through with vicious cracks and bumps, difficult to see in the alternation between sun and shade. The traffic patterns are confusing; Budding nervousness as Lizzie’s phone goes haywire, no longer suitable for navigation and it’s too dangerous to fidget with hers or mine. I try to remember what I’d seen on the map and we proceed another few miles. We hit Capital Circle and the bike lane returns; then quickly drops off again. I pull onto the sidewalk and we take a moment to gather ourselves and properly orient. “Just pretend like we’re in New York…”

The rest of the ride is more or less smooth with two exciting moments:

  1. A sequence of two dozen cars bull their way out of a car park, stopping right-of-way traffic. I pretend like we’re in New York, flip a guy off, and force my way through to the resulting steep downhill. Lizzie stays back and yells what sounds like “What the f***” and waits for a better opportunity. Relief when she makes it because I dislike looking to my rear while descending steep hills.
  2. A truck pulls up to Lizzie in a busy and narrow single-lane road, asks “Hey, are you going to St. Augustine?” Alarmed by the question she replies no, truck driver replies quizzically and dejectedly, “…Oh.”

5:30PM: We arrive at Vince and Martha’s Warm Showers destination and lug our bikes onto their enormous and clean screened in porch, awkwardly kicking and boxing our ~12 bags in the door while heeding Martha’s instructions to not let the cat Ruby succeed at escaping the room. Ruby lets us win pretty easily, which allows us to dialogue with Martha about feral cats, things to do other than biking, and her twenty-year career as a statistician and researcher for education systems throughout southern states. Martha is one of ten siblings (!), something so foreign to Lizzie and I that we barrage her with questions about what it was like. It turns out Martha isn’t even a cyclist; one of her brothers prompted her to sign up for the network.

Martha: “One dependable thing about my childhood was that any announced vacations were always camping trips, for logistical and financial reasons.”

Vince joins the party a little later, returning from his job at the Department of Environmental Protection where he works to safeguard Florida’s beaches and coastline.

Within minutes we’re spun into a vibrant meandering conversation with two more members of the gigantic “family” that seemingly envelops the discerning roadie.