Trip Log – Day 390 – Apalachicola FL to Tallahassee FL

to-tallahaseeDecember 13, 2016 – Fog & sun, 75 degrees

Miles Today: 88

Miles to Date: 20,426

States to Date: 48

Day breaks late on the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone. A foggy morning trickled into hazy noon. I rode for hours past phantom grey shapes suspended between land and sea. The towering pines were the sentinel anchors in a world where land and sea, horizon and sky coalesced into atmospheric soup.

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Trip Log – Day 389 – Panama City FL to Apalachicola FL

to-apalachicolaDecember 12, 2016 – Everything but snow, 70 degrees

Miles Today: 62

Miles to Date: 20,338

States to Date: 48

 Woke before dawn and gulped Adam’s instant coffee before heading out at first light to get to Apalachicola by two where I had a conversation scheduled. The weather had turned warm and still. The first few miles were so fine.

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Then, as happens when schedule intrudes, everything changed: clouds rolled in; the wind shifted to every direction; rain came down. It reached worrisome proportions just as I reached the apex of the

DuPont Bridge pickled alongside morning traffic to Tyndall AFB. When I reached the bottom of the bridge there was nowhere to go. The bike path ended, the traffic was swift. I stood in the downpour for a few minutes to assess options. There was a parallel access road on the other side of the divided highway, within the base proper. At a hiccup in the traffic I dashed across and mounted Tom past the ‘Warning – No Access’ sign. I decided that if I got stopped for trespassing in the rain on government land I would throw myself on the mercy of our benevolent military. Fortunately, no such histrionics were required, though I’m sure there is video footage of a soaking wet guy with yellow saddlebags pedaling across high security property.

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My service road turned into a sidewalk, then a cracked sidewalk, and then no sidewalk. By that time I had passed the main gates to Tyndall, so traffic was light. I trundled my bike back across US 98, which once again had the nice shoulder I value on Florida highways.

Oops, then I got a flat. A teeny tiny shard of metal. Very tricky to extract, but I did it.

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By ten I was sailing again. The rain dissipated and I made good time. I skipped the six-mile extension that hugged the coast, stayed on US 98 and savored its fresh blacktop. I reached Apalachicola before 2 p.m.

I first came to Apalachicola about seven years ago, when our firm won a project to design a new critical access hospital in this small town. The new hospital is still only a concept and the CEO is a new man, but Mike Cooper granted me an hour to talk about rural healthcare and tomorrow.

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By three the sun was bright, the air warm and I explored the Oyster Capital of the World, meandering through downtown and out to Papa Joe’s where I once enjoyed the best oysters ever on picnic tables overlooking sea grass and fishing boats. Oh, no! Closed!

img_8803Turns out Papa Joe’s only moved. The new place is not nearly so authentic, but the raw oysters are still the best in the world. I topped them off with a Po’ Boy, fries and a Yuengling because, well, after riding sixty miles, raw oysters are mighty tasty but not all that filling. The combo though, is a complete winner.

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Trip Log – Day 388 – Seaside FL to Panama City FL

to-panama-cityDecember 10, 2016 – Sun and clouds, 60 degrees

Miles Today: 31

Miles to Date: 20,276

States to Date: 48

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Daybreak was overcast but the sun made itself known throughout the day, sometimes at a distance, sometimes with a direct shine. I took a morning walk on the beach in Seacrest, the highest portion of dunes along the panhandle.

img_8759The bike path on Scenic Route 30A follows a steady stretch down the socio-economic ladder of summer fun from affluent Seaside to tacky Panama City Beach. New Urbanism is eclipsed by drunken consumerism in beach shops that hawk 25,000 bathing suits for $1 each and happy hours that run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. I suppose if you drink that much you don’t know what time is it anyway.

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After a long writing break I rode into Panama City proper and met my wonderful host Adam who prepared me a fine meal, played his hand crafted didgeridoo, shared the marvels of the universe.

imagesThen Adam took me to Ms. Newby’s his favorite bar. In true Panama City Beach style, it is open from 7 a.m. until 4 a.m. Adam explained that a few customers just loiter on the beach for those three hours and then return to start their day with a fresh beer. You gotta love this country.

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Trip Log – Day 387 – Andalusia AL to Seaside FL

to-seasideDecember 10, 2016 – Sun, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 98

Miles to Date: 20,245

States to Date: 48

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I couldn’t decide if I was happier to get to my 48th state or get the heck out of Alabama, a state whose sweet demeanor and excellent food is blunted by lousy shoulders and motorists who ignore cyclists at every turn. Either way, it was a great day to head south and escape colder temperatures.

When I passed Lakewood – the highest elevation in Florida at a whopping 345 feet above sea level – I realized my days of climbing are fully behind me.

img_8731DeFuniak Springs was founded as a Winter Chautauqua and has a lovely round lake surrounded by cottages and the impressive meetinghouse. The town is also famous for McLain’s buffet restaurant, a welcome break for a hungry cyclist on a long day.

As soon as I passed south of I-10 travel turned super smooth. US 331 is still under construction, but most of it is fresh blacktop with a dedicated bike lane. I reached the beach by 3 p.m. and then tootled down Scenic 30A along a very nice bike path, mostly empty on a December afternoon.

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I spent some time in Seaside, a 1980’s era planned community often credited for spurring the term ‘New Urbanism.’ low-rise, high density, mixed use. Everything old becomes new. Seaside Florida is really not that different from Seaside NJ, and virtually identical to the nineteenth century Ocean Grove NJ, except that the Florida version is polished and tony.

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Still, I do not want to sell Seaside short. The development dates from 1981 and signals a departure from the isolated oceanfront towers typical of Florida beaches in the 1960’s and 70’s. Seaside doesn’t seem so innovative today in large part because so much that has come after emulates it. Yet, as I pedaled through adjacent communities modeled on Seaside’s success, none of them achieve Seaside’s level of planning, architecture or community. Seaside really slows the car down; it puts pedestrians and cyclists on par with the vehicles. It is too upscale and resort-like to be a realistic town, but the scale is very good. Later communities, sometimes gated, almost all with more private space, copy Seaside’s bric-a-brac vocabulary but miss the main point – which is to celebrate connecting with others rather than maximizing the private view.

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Trip Log – Day 386 – Montgomery AL to Andalusia AL

to-andulusia-alDecember 9, 2016 – Sun, 40 degrees

Miles Today: 93

Miles to Date: 20,147

States to Date: 47

A bicycle touring rule of thumb: fifty miles before noon is easier than thirty miles after noon. I started prompt at 7 a.m. in 30-degree temps and navigated twelve thorny miles to extract myself from Montgomery. Once I turned onto US 331 south everything turned to clear sailing. I reached Luverne and logged sixty miles before noon, a new personal best. The season was in full bloom all along my path: nature provided the mistletoe; humans provided the inflatable Santa’s.

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There’s always some snag in those thorny last thirty miles. Immediately outside of Luverne I hit some sizable hills, but by the time I rolled off US 331 I enjoyed fifteen miles of sweet Alabama country roads in the filtered December light.

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Trip Log – Day 385 – Selma AL to Montgomery AL

to-montgomeryDecember 8, 2016 – Cloudy, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 69

Miles to Date: 20,054

States to Date: 47 

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In 1964, on the steps of the Alabama State Capital, where segregationist George Wallace served as governor, four months before President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, Martin Luther King Jr. made a speech at the close of the five day march from Selma to Montgomery. He paraphrased Unitarian Theodore Parker in a quote now largely attributed to MLK. I never heard it until I began this trip, but it has become my mantra, my lens, for understanding what I hear and see across our country.

The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

img_8703We do not always move forward, all of our strides are not in the optimal direction, but over time, we move toward equality, towards peace, towards love.

As I pedaled today my legs empathized with the effort of the marchers demanding their right to vote. But I my mind also pondered the White Supremacists. Surely they knew, in their hearts, their case was unjust. We are all victims of our perspective. The more our perspective is tainted by power, and fear, the more distorted it becomes. Segregationists did not construe their actions as hate; they couched their bigotry as heritage, as honor. But maiming unarmed people and denying citizens basic rights moves beyond the bounds of tolerance. It is wrong.

The march from Selma to Montgomery would not have taken place if the eyes of the wider nation had not peered into Selma’s soul and found it rotten. But the rest of us have no cause to be snug. We did not respond in horror when a Black man was killed; we only acted after inhuman violence flooded out living room TV’s and a White minister was murdered. Circumstances that propel us towards justice are not as pure as we pretend.

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Still we make progress. The progress is slower than my legs can pedal. It is slower than thousands of protestors can walk. But it is progress nonetheless.

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Trip Log – Day 384 – Marion AL to Selma AL

to-selmaDecember 7, 2016 – Cloudy, 50 degrees

Miles Today: 40

Miles to Date: 19,985

States to Date: 47

I did not know, waking from my sound sleep, that today would mark the historical as well as chronological precursor to my ride from Selma to Montgomery. Signs along Perry County Road 45 from Marion to Selma proclaim the Jimmie Lee Jackson Memorial Highway, in honor of the young man whose death, at the hands of local officials, spurred the protests that began as marches from Marion to Selma, and later grew to the historic march to the capital.

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The land is gentle and benevolent, fertile fields and thick forests. It is easy to see why, under the order of a two-tiered society; it was such a pleasant place to be a White person. But order based on oppression is never stable. And so Jimmie Lee Jackson protested and died, and I am drawn here to follow the path of the many who trod before me to protest the ills of this land.

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The city of Selma is poor and tired. So often, the biggest struggles of man are fought over scraps so tarnished we wonder in hindsight whether they were worth the trouble. But what began in Selma resonated well beyond downtown facades in need of repair or barbershops lining back streets. That the violence and unrest of Selma had to occur at all is tragic. More than fifty years later, can anyone envision a time when the city will be known for anything else?

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