The little road heading out of Lake City was hard to find, I had to ask but was soon on my way and heading down a deserted road to Gum Swamp Wilderness Area. I had been going a while when ahead of me on the road I could see an animal. It didn’t know I was coming, I couldn’t see what it was. It turned out to be a dog, miles from anywhere, and looking painfully thin with bones sticking out. It had a collar on but it wouldn’t come near me, it just kept circling around the bike. I tempted it closer with biscuits and managed to photograph the telephone number on the collar. Typically, being as I wasn’t in a large city I had no signal on my phone. I waited and flagged down the next vehicle, a couple of local hunters. I explained the situation and asked if they had a phone which I could use to call the owner “Arh, there aint no praablem, that be a hurntin darg. His owner has bin art hurntin an will pick im up later”. Bullshit! That may normally be the case, but anybody with half a brain could see that this dog had not seen its owner or a bowl of food in a very long time. Clearly this pair of gun toting bearded red necks had less than half a brain between them. They had been out for a day in the woods killing things and clearly weren’t going to spoil their Sunday by actually having to SAVE something. But since I have been in the United States I have made it my policy not to argue with anybody that might point a gun at me, (pronounced gurn in these parts), “Stop pointing that gun at me, I have a Swiss Army knife at the bottom of that bag you know. I can deploy a weapon of minimal destruction in less than 45 seconds! I could give you a nasty flesh wound.” I didn’t have much choice, night was fast approaching, I had to leave the dog there. Finding a place to camp was easy enough, there were various muddy tracks heading into the trees and the swamp. As I camped amongst the tall pines and it was one of those rare nights were you could stand still and enjoy total silence, there was absolutely nothing to be heard. Bliss.
After about 15km of riding I arrived at Taylor, a tiny village with a massive church. There was a little gas station and store, I called in, poured myself a coffee, sat in a chair and started talking to the owner. His name was Blue, a real character with his strong southern accent, a cowboy hat and padded lumber shirt and was busy chewing on a toothpick. The store was like so many around here, run down and very scruffy, but the shelves behind the counter were full of religious book and a well thumbed and bookmarked bible lay on the counter. I liked Blue, we talked about all sorts and he asked me how many kids I have. I returned the question, he stood there trying to work it out “9 altogether between us, though some of them are grandchildren. Their Mommy and Daddy went a bit crazy and now they have gone on a long vacation”. That sounds a bit like me, though I think they managed to get theirs all expenses paid! Anything I said that could in any way be thought of as religious was followed by an “Amen” from Blue. I asked if I could take a photo of him, he wouldn’t have it “Go on, just a little one….please”. I turned on the charm and gave him one last chance but he blew it! As I was getting ready to leave he said “Where did you get that rag you putting on your head?”. Cheek of it! That was my wonderful buff he was calling a rag! I followed his instructions for a short cut on roads that were not marked on my map, then crossed a bridge and entered Georgia, the peach state. Another 12 miles brought me to St George where I called in at K & C’s Oak Tree Café for lunch. They asked for the address of my blog and sat there reading it whilst I was there, then gave me a pork chop sandwich to take with me “You won’t just think that is the best pork chop sandwich you have ever tasted, you will KNOW it is”. As I departed they also gave me a bagful of blueberry bagels, they had just read in my blog that I like them, another lovely example of southern hospitality.
I carried on up the 23 heading north, the cycling was nothing exciting, mile after mile of pine plantations with the occasional dull town thrown in. The roads were quiet, though once through Jesup the increase in traffic was alarming. There was only a very narrow shoulder that had rumble strips in it, pretty awful for cycling, so I cycled as close to the white line as possible. I have to say the whole time the drivers were really good, not a single vehicle came too close and no horn blowing, even the lorries moved well out, I was impressed. Armadillos are still top of the list for being squashed around here, which reminds me of a southern joke. Why did the chicken cross the road? To show the armadillo it could be done. Alongside every road there is always at least some rubbish at the roadside, but here in Georgia there seem to be hundreds of coat hangers. I should collect a few, I could hang my lovely clothes from a tree at night. I spotted a tiny track leading into the woods, no driver would ever spot it so it would be good for camping. I tried to get as far away from the road as possible, but thought I saw some buildings through the trees so didn’t go too far. Once I was in the tent I soon realised that just a bit further down was a railway line, very noisy trains thundered past on one side and the main road was on the other side and aircraft flew overhead. If all that man made noise wasn’t enough some large sounding unidentified creature stood near the tent and started snorting, a far cry from that peaceful night in Big Gum Swamp.
I rode into Savannah of horrible roads. There were plenty of road works that made the road narrow and made it all seem much longer than it actually was. As I came into the outskirts I passed through mainly black neighbourhoods, and I felt an unease about them. As I cycle I often make eye contact with people of the streets, the give a wave or more often just a nod, from which I normally get a response, but in these parts there is rarely any eye contact, and when there is and I acknowledge the person there is nothing in response. I arrived early afternoon, the thought of a bed for the night seemed really strange, the thought of a shower even stranger. I took a shower, the first time I have even washed in 13 days, though I think I am going a bit soft as I didn’t really need one. My choice of places to stay in Savannah is a little different to normal. I am staying with a religious community, I am not sure if you could call it a cult really. They are called the Twelve Tribes and have communities all over the US and others dotted around the world including one in Devon, England. They have 3 lovely houses here all next to each other and about 50 live in the community with about 20 of them being children. If 50 names to learn weren’t enough, they all have Hebrew names, I have absolutely no chance what so ever! The idea is that they live their lives like the disciples. They effectively live and work for each other, they own nothing of their own other than a few clothes and a toothbrush, everything else is communal. They all have jobs working for the community in various industries, here it is mainly construction and farming, they are currently building a café across the road as well as working on outside projects. They do not receive any salary for their work, but all their needs are paid for by the community. The children are all educated within the community too. At 7 each morning and evening they have a gathering that consists of singing, dancing and prayers. They all eat together too, the women cooking vast quantities of food. The whole set up is based on love and sharing, working in the interests of the community and being selfless. Everybody seems to be very happy, it clearly works for them, but to enter the community they have to give up everything they own, it is a huge commitment. The men generally have longish beards, useful that, is saved me having to shave and tidy myself up, I felt at home. They have slightly more hair than me and keep it tied at the back in a sort of very small pony tail. The women have long hair down their backs and keep it covered in scarves during the gatherings. They also own a tall ships boat down on the riverfront where they give free tours around the boat to the many tourists in town. Being as I was staying with them I got priority treatment when I went to see them today. First I was given lunch, then taken on a full tour including everything that was closed to the public. They are wonderful people, very friendly and very open. I had rather expected to be given the hard sell on their community, especially as I am the only guest staying with them. But not at all, they are just pleased to host people and show outsiders the way they are leading their lives.
I took a trip around the city. It is a lovely city, first settled by the Brits and laid out on a grid system but cram packed with wonderful architecture and beautiful square full of trees. A guy called Oglethorpe was sent over to establish the city and keep the Spanish from moving north up the coast. He did a pretty good job but needed reinforcements to hold the Spanish back, but they were never sent out. Jewish people moved in and were welcomed by Oglethorpe and with their support he was able to achieve what he was sent out to do. When he returned home to Britain he didn’t get a great welcoming, in fact he was stripped of his titles and he was given no credit for any of his achievements. I don’t know what he did, but he obviously upset somebody along the way. The centre is classed as the historical district, there are a few shops and cafes and that is about it, the main high street stores are well away from the downtown area. Despite it being such a nice place I seemed to lack a little enthusiasm. May be my thoughts are beginning to focus more on home than they are on the sights that I am looking at.
I know I have mentioned this a few times before, but it is worth another mention. Thank you all for your comments on this blog and your emails, they are all really appreciated. I am not going to mention any specific names otherwise others are going to think “Why didn’t he mention me?”, but all those comments are very welcome. It’s always nice to get them from people I have stayed with or met along the way, but sometimes I read them and think “Is that me they are talking about”. People are so generous, and give me so much encouragement and all I have to do is ride my bike. But it is nice to know that people are still reading this stuff, it makes it all the more worthwhile spending the time writing it. Thank you.