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Friday, October 20
In the early-morning hours I managed to send pictures to Barry, after
a few disconnections in mid-picture. But finally my work was done, and
now I was only three days behind rather than a full week.
I returned to Shoney's for a buffet breakfast, and then headed for the
long bridge that crosses Pensacola Bay. The crossing is about 6 miles
long, and there was a stiff headwind, but I had a wide shoulder all to
In the mid-1950's I lived in Fort Walton Beach, and this was my first
return to the region. Fort Walton Beach is about 40 miles east of Pensa-
cola, and back then there was no civilization to speak of between the two
towns. But now that stretch is almost solid with franchise businesses
and housing developments.
After 20 miles I stopped for a BLT sandwich. My energy output on the
previous long day had not been replenished by a mere breakfast buffet
three hours earlier. I also had several glasses of iced tea, and noticed an
interesting geographical fact: In the west my iced tea would always come
unsweetened, in mid Texas they began to ask whether I wanted sweetened
or unsweetened, and now I'd reached the point where they wouldn't ask
but just serve sweetened (which I prefer).
I passed the entrance to Hurlburt Air Force Base, where I had been
stationed shortly after it opened around 1954. The big Air Force base in
the area is Eglin (north of Fort Walton Beach), and I passed one of its
many entrances by early afternoon. There I saw some old and new aircraft
on display, and stopped long enough for a couple from Indiana to take my
picture next to one of the type I once piloted in training: a B-25.
To avoid the heavily travelled roads that follow the coast I'd decided to
take Highway 20, a more-direct route towards Tallahassee. Although it was
not necessary to go through Tallahassee, I've been looking at that city as
a waypoint on my route to Miami. Since I can't bike right through the Gulf
of Mexico, I've regarded Tallahassee as the corner of the necessary dogleg.
The day was beautiful, and passing through Niceville without finding a
motel didn't upset me because I felt like camping anyway, and there were
plenty of forested areas where I could be alone. But a local I talked with
at a supermarket saw the sleeping bag tied on the bike and figured I'd
need a campground, so he began to extol the virtues of the Rocky Bayou
State Recreation campground. When I came to the entrance a few miles
down the road I decided to check it out, pulled in, and asked the ranger
what they charged for bikes. The ranger (Gary) didn't answer the question,
but said that they were full. As I put on a disappointed look, he got out
a park map and showed me an isolated area where I was welcome to
pitch my tent, but I "can't build a fire". No problem there, since the
temperature was in the 80's and my main problem would be staying cool.
"Since you can't build a campfire I won't charge you anything", he said.
Then he pointed out the shower room, which was about 200 feet from
my site. I decided that this package was better than anything I could
find out in the woods, so once again I abandoned my no-campgrounds
A very friendly fellow (Greg) was camped on a semi-permanent basis
(staying at least a week) about 50 feet from my site, and tempted me with
offers of beer, then wine. I resisted that temptation with no trouble,
because I had some orange juice to mix. Greg lives in Mobile, and comes
here to fish a couple of times a year. He had a pickup, a mountain bike,
two tents, torches to chase away mosquitos, several folding chairs,
and other comforts of home. But he was lonely, very friendly (in a way
that never made me feel uncomfortable), and I wished I could have spent
more time with him.
But I was tired. I mixed my juice and sipped it as I pitched my tent.
The mosquitos were thick, so I was careful to close the tent each time
I tossed something in. I ate a Hardee's sandwich I'd bought in Niceville,
walked to the new bathhouse and took a shower, and got in the tent
before it was dark. My radio picked up a very good soft-rock station that
I listened to for a couple of hours before shutting it off to go to sleep.
Around 10 I wakened to the sound of buzzing. I turned on my light
and shone it at the tent ceiling. There were at least 50 mosquitos inside
the tent. I investigated and found that I had failed to close the zipper by
about four inches. I took a sock and started slapping the mosquitos, and
everyone I hit left a bloody spot on the tent. They weren't biting me any
more because they were already full. So I just made sure the zipper was
closed and went back to sleep, undisturbed for the rest of the night.
Day 48. Saturday,
Greg had already left for fishing by the time I got up at dawn. I packed
up, turning my tent inside-out to rid it of any lingering bugs, and hit the
road, stopping at the entrance to thank Gary for his kindness.
Both the weather and the countryside were beautiful. Pine forests were
occasionally interrupted by a bayou or stream, and at the rivers'
edges would be cypress draped with spanish moss (which, I've heard, is
very common around New Orleans where it is referred to as marty grass).
After 18 miles I came to Freeport, and was ready for breakfast and iced
tea. There were two cafes, and for some reason I chose the second. I
entered, and all but one of the 15 tables was occupied. I sat down and
was brought water and a menu. I couldn't believe the prices. Normally two
eggs with hashbrowns goes for about $3.25, with coffee or tea another
dollar. This place had "two eggs, hashbrowns or grits, toast or biscuit"
for $1.85, and "breakfast includes coffee or tea with two refills". The eggs
were, well, eggs, but the hashbrowns were plentiful and crisp, and the
biscuit was huge. (No butter, but you can't have everything.) I had iced
tea with all the refills, and the bill came to $2. I gave the waitress $3.25
with this friendly advice: "Raise your prices one dollar across the board."
(If I lived in the area, of course, I'd say nothing.)
The road varied between good shoulder and no shoulder, but traffic was
light so I had no problems. I stopped at an intersection to take a picture
of a vendor's trailer and had a soda. The man also sold confederate
flags, and obviously had the "South will rise again" attitude. He was
pleasant enough to me, but I offered no opinion on anything that might
get him upset. Inside his trailer he had a propane cooker and a big pot
in which he would boil peanuts. I told him I didn't know if I'd ever had
boiled peanuts, hinting that I would be interested in a sample. He didn't
offer, so my ignorance continues.
My progress was slow because of a persistent headwind. I arrived in
Blountstown about a half hour before sunset, all ready to not be upset if
there was no motel because there were so many places to camp. But
within a block of the supermarket where I got my orange juice there
was an inviting inn. There was nobody in the office, and I got no response
after ringing three times. Dark was approaching and I was about to give
up when I saw movement from a room. The owner also made up the rooms
and she was late today because she'd been to an auction. She showed
me a room and it was fine.
The supermarket was so close that I went back and got some groceries,
including the makings of a root beer float, and a can of collard greens.
They were good, but not as good as three nights earlier.
Day 49. Sunday,
Hoping to find a restaurant in one of the several small towns my map
showed to the east I set out. No luck, so after 20 miles I stopped and
had some canned peas, a banana, and some cookies. On I went, through
countryside that was forested but relatively uninteresting except for the
I was getting tired of water and longed for my iced tea fix by the time
I'd come to the entrance to Wakulla Springs State Park. I'd visited that
place several times in the early 50's when I was taking pilot training at
nearby Moultrie Georgia. (At that time it was privately owned.) The signs
at the entrance indicated they had a restaurant, but it was over a mile off
the highway so I decided to move on to the next intersection, hoping there
would be a cafe. There were only a couple of convenience stores, and the
most appealing item in the one I entered was chocolate milk. I studied my
map as I drank it.
The next place with AOL access was Ocala. I could get there in two
more days if I made it to Perry tonight. But Perry was still 40 miles away,
and I'd already biked 58 miles. I had a slight headwind, and was making
11 miles an hour. It was 2:45. The sun would set at 6:45 (I was now in
the eastern time zone). I'd try it, figuring that if I had a flat I could
The decision gave me new energy, and as I biked I played another
numbers game. Example: If I have 32.6 miles to go, and I want to get there
in 3 hours and 20 minutes, then what speed must I average? Well, 32.6
divided by 3 and 1/3 hours equals 32.6 divided by 10/3, which equals 32.6
times 3/10, which equals .... I'd lose my place and have to start over, but
it's amazing how mental concentration makes the miles fly by.
I arrived in Perry a bit ahead of schedule, and did some wasted biking
before finding a supermarket and then a motel. Not only was the room
very nice at a good price (one of those coupons again), but right across
the street was a Denny's. I knew they stayed open 24 hours, so I lingered
over my orange juice and chores, and only left to eat around 9:15. Then
I saw that there was a Golden Corral right next door, so I immediately
changed my eating destination. I entered at 9:20 and found that they
closed at 9:30. But nobody rushed me as I enjoyed a wonderful salad
plate, then barbecued ribs and chicken, then two kinds of pie. And I
had an ice cream cone to eat on the way back to my room.
There I filled out my daily log. My odometers registered 100.3, 100.37,
and 100.1 miles. When I called Mary she wished me a happy birthday,
and I realized that somebody up there has given me a wonderful present---
health good enough to be able to ride a century on my 70th birthday.
So not only did the day mark the end of another year of my life, but
of another decade as well. As I do every ten years, I try to compare my
last decade with the previous ones. Every decade will have some bad
moments: I lost my father in my 40's, my parents-in-law in my 50's, and
my best friend in my 60's. But the good overshadowed the bad: Among
my blessings are many good friends, a loving wife who allows me to do
crazy things, a fine son and his wonderful wife who live only a few houses
down the street, and two healthy grandkids. I can honestly say that my
60's have been my best decade.