It was another bitterly cold morning, my cycle computer told me it was -5 c but my feet and hands were insisting it was colder and they made me stop for a coffee at the first opportunity. It turned out to be a good move, I warmed up nicely and stayed that way for the rest of the day. I turned onto smaller roads that meandered through pine forests, the sun was shining, it was still nice and crisp and all was well in my little world. With few food options available and now my stomach insisting that I stopped, I called into a little café/store in a tiny village and had lunch. It was a grimy little run down place with a sign that said “No tipping please, it is our pleasure to serve you”, but judging by the grumpy old women serving they hadn’t put the sign there and it would appear that they weren’t it full agreement with it either. Everybody who came in and spoke to me had the same opening line “It’s a cold day to be out cycling”. An old lady added “It is years since it has been this cold here. I am 83 and have a good memory and I can’t remember when it was last this cold”. This has been a bit of a theme all the way across the USA, I want somebody to come up to me and say “Lovely weather, a tad too warm for this time of year, but that’s global warming for you”. I carried on along more lonely roads, it was delightful cycling. I passed through Florala and realised I hadn’t filled up on water for the night so stopped at a mechanic’s workshop and asked for water “You can use that tap over there”. It was surrounded by ice which probably explained why nothing can out of the thing. His mate arrived and said “Use this one inside. Where are you heading for?”, “New York” I told him “What on that thing” he exclaimed “You are a crazy arse. I bet you stay in some nice motels”, “No, I normally camp”, “Well you will need to find a motel tonight, it is going to drop to 18 degrees (-8 c)” he told me whilst laughing, “It’s ok, I will camp, that’s what I need the water for”, there was a long pause and a look of astonishment, then he added “You really are one crazy arsed son of a bitch, you had better find a house to stay in tonight. Where are you heading”, “I am heading out on route 4” then the other guy replied “If you head out on route 4 you go right past my house”. I had expected an offer, I was glad it never came, I was quite happy to camp, there are so many places to camp in the pine forests it would be easy. I passed a sign saying “….Florida’s highest point”, I was only 300ft above sea level and hadn’t even reached Florida.
It was another cold start but another beautiful sunny morning, a glorious winter’s day. I carried on through the forest and finally entered into Florida, the sunshine state. As I approached Darlington I saw a tree with amazing icicles hanging from it in somebody’s garden so I stopped to take a photo. The dog barked. A man came out. We talked. It turned out that he had put a hose up the tree and sent a spray of water out “It has been up there for years, but this is the first time I have had a chance to use it”…great! Then out of the blue he asked “You have been travelling through many countries and the US, what do you think of the religious people here and they way they all preach to you about Jesus and God and how their religion is the only way?”, it was the start of an interesting conversation. His friends, a couple, stopped in their car and we all talked. When I was leaving he said “Call in at the restaurant in the village, they do a good breakfast and it is run by Steve’s niece“. I had to search it out, there were no signs to it and it was tucked down a side street, who would ever know it was there. Nobody by the look of it. It was called “The Two Cousins Café” and the two cousins were in there as well as me. We chatted away, I told them I had met Steve. They told me it was all local custom in the cafe, but they were great to me and even let me use there wireless internet and insisted on constantly topping up my coffee. People started to arrive, each one was told what I was doing and where I was heading and some of them came over to chat. By them time I left the place was almost full and I felt I had been made welcome by the whole village and not one had called me a “Crazy arsed” anything! Wonderful moments that make travelling so good and memorable. I made good progress on lovely little roads, but late in the day arrived back at a main road. The shoulder had a bicycle symbol, the first I have seen I weeks. It looked like being another cold night.
I was heading south, completely the wrong direction considering I am supposed to be heading for New York, but my map showed a nice road running along the Gulf of Mexico, it was too tempting, I was heading for it. I passed through Panama City, then though Tyndall Air Force Base, then what looked like nice coastal riding turned out to be mile after mile of pine forest. For the first time in weeks I saw cycle tourists, they were heading the other way and had absolutely no intention of even slowing down, let alone stopping. I eventually saw the coast at Mexico Beach. With a name like that I would have been really surprised if I had not seen the sea. I stopped for a break, it was balmy weather, 17 degrees c, I was down to shorts for a change. I saw another cyclist, this one decided to stop and we have a brief chat. I liked talking to him, I always like talking to cyclists who are carrying more crap than I am. I crossed into the Eastern time zone and the last time change of this trip. I gives me an extra hour in the evening so a longer day is much more relaxed. I stayed tight to the coast which meant there were houses all the way along, so I ended up camping in a plot of land that was for sale, a sort of test drive if you like. I wasn’t impressed, I didn’t buy it.
More coast followed in the morning, after a warm and wet night. I stopped at a supermarket in Apalachicola, the girl at the checked asked “Where are you heading for?”, “New York”, “What do you want to go there for?”, “Oh, I have always wanted to go there. There is so much to see, I think it will be really interesting.”, “I don’t want to go there! Where are you from?”, “England”, “I don’t want to go there either” so told me. “Where do you want to go then?”, “I am 18 and have always lived here, I don’t want to go anywhere. I am not a city person, besides, there is a lot to see here”. I moved a few doors down to a gas station that had a Subway attached to it, there I met Erin who does analysis work for Subway and sat working at the next table to me, at least she was working until I interrupted her. We talked about various things and I was astounded to hear that as she was in her first year with the company she only got one week annual vacation which is nothing short of slave labour. I talked to her about travel too, she hadn’t really travelled outside of the USA, but I guess with one week holiday a year I wouldn’t either. We talked about Obama’s health reforms which even if passed wont some into effect for 4 years, though they will start paying for it straight away. That will go down well, they already pay far too much each month for private health insurance, them on top of that the Americans will have to pay for a National Health Service that they can’t even use for another 4 years! I tried to learn a little more about football, but I think that no matter how many questions I ask I am never going to understand a game called football that is played using the hands! There are lots of different leagues too and even if I look at the tables I can’t even work out from the stats why the team at the top is there. A day is always made better after a good conversation with somebody and Erin made today a good day. I left her to carry on with her work and I carried on along the coast, the road ran right along the water front, just a narrow strip of beach and then the water. There were various jetties heading into the very calm water (photo). It is very sheltered here with a group of islands running parallel to the coast a few miles out. I crossed another long bridge that was very exposed, the wind hit me head on. I stopped for more coffee at a gas station and checked the weather forecast. It looks as though it will be sunny though cold, but still a whole bunch of degrees warmer than you lot are getting back in the UK.
I left the coast and the scenery inland has become a bit mundane, the last couple of days have hardly been exciting. I had set off in the cold so called in at Ouzt’s Bar in Newport to warm up, they were opening as I arrived. They were very friendly, coffee soon arrived and before long I was being given a history lesson by Dorothy, the owner. Newport has a population of about 5, but it used to be the 5th largest town in Florida, due mainly to the river which was used for logging. A hurricane destroyed the place, this one in 1853, and it never really recovered. I also learned that Florida is being hit hardest by the recession, probably as it relies heavily on tourism. Jodie told me to call in to JR’s gas station down the road and meet Barbara. So having left and been given the coffee for free, that is exactly what I did. I asked the woman there if she was Barbara, but I couldn’t make her understand me, by the 5th attempt I was speaking very slowly and as clearly as possible but I just got a “Bar what?” in reply. I knew she wasn’t Barbara and the whole attempt to make her understand the question was a complete waste of time, but at last it got through “Oh no, I am Joanna, Barbara works weekdays“. Sometimes the camping situation doesn’t really work out and last night was such an occasion. I saw a wonderful place in a remote forest but decided to press on for another half an hour only to arrive amongst farmland. It was well dark before I turned up a track and set up the tent close beside it and expecting visitors during the evening. Thankfully I did get a peaceful nights sleep, but I was never very happy there, I like to be well out of the way.
I have gone about as far east as I can go now, it is almost time to turn and head north for the final leg of my journey and the final destination of New York. I can’t say I am looking forward to heading north, it rather takes me on to a collision course with even worse weather, you know, rain, snow and that sort of rubbishy stuff. In the four months that I have been in the USA I have so far spent $27 on accommodation, $7 on a campsite outside of San Francisco and $20 on a shared motel room with Matt. I guess as the weather gets yuckier I will turn into more of a wimp and that will send my costs spiralling upwards, though it will still be less than paying for health insurance here.