Trip Log – Day 397 – Ponte Vedra Beach FL to Jacksonville FL

to-jacksonvilleDecember 20, 2016 – Overcast, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 28

Miles to Date: 20,733

States to Date: 48

 img_8950I rode into Jacksonville, the United States’ geographically largest city, on a busy Tuesday morning along miles of commercial strip along US 90 west, across a narrow drawbridge into downtown, and through the downtrodden neighborhood around Edward Waters College. The city is sprawling and nondescript as everyone along my Florida route warned. Poetically, I should have completed my journey in St. Augustine, our nations oldest city. But Jacksonville is more appropriate. It is not a city of the past, it is a city of our present, and as such will have greater bearing on what tomorrow portends.

img_8946I arrived at the Amtrak station mid-morning, anchored my bike, and spent the day strolling the St. Johns River waterfront, eating Tuesday tacos and sharing a beer with old friends Jan and Mike Golan, who happened to be in the area for a warm weather break. After they dropped me off for my train, ruminations about my year plus experience began to fill my head.

I kept coming back to a quote I leaned at the Harn Art Museum in Gainesville a few days ago. Ron Garon, astronaut, travelled 71 million miles in space. When he returned he said, “Earth is a fragile oasis with many neighborhoods in a very big universe. We must see ourselves as fellow co-laborers on this planet in a war against hunger, poverty, and environmental destruction. The key is ‘we.’”

My journey has been a mere 20,000 miles and change, but I’ve also focused on the illusive ‘we’ that is our nation. ‘We the people’ are an incredible bunch, like no nation that’s ever existed. Yet we have so many challenges: among ourselves and amidst our seven billion neighbors. I’ve learned…

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Oops, the conductor just called my train. Time to roll north into the deep dark of this longest night of the year until we reach tomorrow. All aboard!

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Trip Log – Day 396 – St Augustine FL to Ponte Vedra Beach FL

to-ponte-vedra-beachDecember 19, 2016 – Fog, 60 degrees

Miles Today: 33

Miles to Date: 20,705

States to Date: 48

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Saint Augustine is a lovely town, even on a grey day. The Visitor’s Center gives a good overview of the city’s history. The architecture is rich and varied, the scale very approachable. My favorite building is the gorgeous Ponce de Leon Hotel, once the flagship of the Flager hospitality chain, now the home of Flager College, named for one of Florida’s early developers.

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The ride up A1A is particularly interesting two months after Hurricane Matthew. Along my route I’ve witnessed Katrina reconstruction ten years on, Sandy reconstruction four years later, and now more recent repairs. I pedaled past lines of pick-up trucks for carpenters, plumbers, plasterers, and painters; dump trucks carting beach sand, and bobcats spreading it all over. These ever frequent, ever more powerful weather events are a new economic engine.

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Trip Log – Day 395 – Gainesville FL to St Augustine FL

to-st-augustineDecember 18, 2016 – Clouds, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 78

Miles to Date: 20,672

States to Date: 48

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Another day of terrific bicycle touring in a state I find much more bike friendly than anticipated. After two hearty bowls of steel cut oats, coffee and oranges right off the tree, I crossed the double helix pedestrian/bike bridge that connects Gainesville to the University of Florida medical center.

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I rode sixteen miles along the Hawthorne Trail, skirting Payne’s Prairie, ascending to hardwood hammock and rolling along cypress swamps.

From Hawthorne I enjoyed designated bike paths along FL 20 and 207 all the way to St. Augustine. The tailwind on my final push was handy since my hosts asked me arrive early to go to a party: always a good motivation to pedal hard.

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Jackie and Crunch are recent landlubbers; for three years they lived on a boat. The party was at their old marina. I learned about an entirely new way to live from well-tanned folks with few possessions and myriad tales of how they weathered Hurricane Matthew.

imgresAfter nightfall my hosts drove me through downtown St. Augustine’s famous Nights of Lights Festival. Jackie, who is a professional tour guide, provided a rich narrative to the sparking illumination.

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Trip Log – Day 394 – Gainesville FL

to-gainesvilleDecember 17, 2016 – Sun, 80 degrees

Miles Today: 10

Miles to Date: 20,594

States to Date: 48

Challenging things have occurred during this journey: gale winds, heavy rain, flat tires; but so far, never all at once. I was fortunate that yesterday’s flat was a slow leak that enabled me to roll to my host’s door in a university town full of cycle shops just before a layover day. First thing this morning I put Tom in shipshape, stopped by Super Cool Bikes, got another spare tube (I carry three) and topped off my tire pressure. Then I explored Gainesville.

img_8893The Florida Museum of Natural History has the largest butterfly collection in the world – more than nine million specimens plus a huge butterfly cage. It also contains timely exhibits about Florida’s ecology. I suppose it makes sense that the last area of our country to take its present shape will be among the first to shrink as climate change continues. Easy come easy go in the land of sinkholes and real estate hucksters.

img_8897The Harn Art Museum has intriguing exhibits despite few ‘name’ pieces. Shows about Frida Kahlo, African masks, The Guerilla Girls, and photojournalism of the Afghan war are all excellent. Of course I was drawn to Stuart Robert Purser’s whimsical painting of cyclists.

I rode through University of Florida campus on a sleepy Saturday; most students are already gone for break. Downtown was even sleepier, though Gainesville has a lovely public library.

screen-shot-2016-12-19-at-3-13-44-pmI headed to my next host’s early as she invited me for early supper before the Veterans for Peace Solstice Concert, an annual event that included some awesome musicians and one of the best Crosby Stills Nash and Young cover bands ever. Gotta love grey haired ex-hippies rocking out to ‘Carry On’ in the Unitarian Church.

Gainesville FL, Lawrence KS, Austin TX, Laramie WY: blue bubbles amid our nation’s political red sea.

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Trip Log – Day 393 – Mayo FL to Gainesville FL

to-gainesvilleDecember 16, 2016 – Sun, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 62

Miles to Date: 20,584

States to Date: 48

After eleven hours of sleep plus a pot of coffee plus a stack of pancakes with a side of bacon, I was ready to roll out of sweet Mayo into a day full of modest surprises.

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Crossing the Suwannee River triggered my repertoire of Stephen Foster songs. But I did not expect that Suwanee County would also offer up fifteen miles of dedicated bike path parallel to US 27.

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My route took me across I-75 three times. The first was the busy intersection with US 441outside of Alachua. I figured I was in for miles sprawl. Instead, my second crossing was a mere hiccup on NW 140th St, a lovely road lined with stately farms, elegant fences, and rolling pasture. Crossing number three on Millhopper Road was even less obtrusive. I rode through San Felasco Hammock State Preserve, miles of canopy road with another dedicated bike path.

img_8887Several people have cautioned me that Florida has the highest cyclist accident rate in the nation. But so far, I have found the state not only physically more beautiful than I expected, but cyclist friendly as well. Let’s hope that continues as I approach the busy Atlantic coast.

They’ve also warmed me that because Florida has no vehicle inspection requirements, shoulder debris causes a high number of flats. I got my third flat in four days just before I reached my hosts’ house. Not all surprises are good.

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Trip Log – Day 392 – Tallahassee FL to Mayo FL

to-mayoDecember 15, 2016 – Sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 79

Miles to Date: 20,522

States to Date: 48

You know you’ve been doing this a long time when fifty miles just isn’t enough.

img_8871I planned to ride to Perry, fifty miles from East Tallahassee. But the day was so fine. I arrived at noon, ate a big lunch, and realized Perry’s one of those in-between places – big enough for chain retail to squash local charm, too small for any notable attractions. So, I pedaled on to Mayo, small enough to wield lots of quirks. Cindy’s RV Park and Motel is a wonderful 50’s era joint run by a chain smoking guy from the Bronx who’s been in Florida so long, snow has melted into nothing but a bad dream.

img_8872Although California has the most auspicious trees in protected areas: redwoods, sequoias; I give Florida the prize for spectacular trees everywhere. I am dazzled by the logging pines, miles of tall, thin trunks planted in grids that cause the light to shimmer as I cycle by. They are countered by the live oak, massive meandering hulks that claim huge shadows of real estate. The forests are so varied; riding in the country here feels as diverse as cycling through most cities.

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Trip Log – Day 391 – Tallahassee FL

to-tallahaseeDecember 14, 2016 – Rain, 65 degrees

Miles Today: 17

Miles to Date: 20,443

States to Date: 48

Sometimes the stars align even when clouds obscure them.

Before I started this journey I pinpointed Tallahassee in the hopes of meeting Kate & Andy Grosmaire and Julie & Michael McBride, four people whom I knew only through a January 2013 NY Times article about restorative justice.

In the past year I have not only become fearless in asking my question, I have also learned one can ask for anything, and if you ask with respect you just might get what you want. A few days ago I blind messaged Kate and Andy’s Facebook pages, explained my trip and that I would like to talk with them about tomorrow. This morning I woke to an invitation for dinner with both couples, so shifted my plans by a day.

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As good fortune would allow, it proved a perfect day to layover in this state capital and college town. Tom got some last push repairs at University Cycles, a terrific bike shop and I enjoyed barbeque at Jim and Milts.

imagesThough it rained most of the day, the skies were dry by late afternoon when I pedaled through Florida State University, where the football stadium of this National Championship ACC powerhouse dwarfs any other building on campus.

Miccosukee Road is one of the five ‘canopy greenways’ in the Tallahassee area. The road is preserved narrow to maintain the incredible overhead trees. Fortunately, vehicles were very accommodating to this bicyclist.

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