When I last wrote I was in Athens, GA preparing to ride southeast toward the coast of Georgia. Right now as I write, I'm riding an Amtrak train from Savannah GA to New York City. I completed the whole trip of riding safely and happily! Okay, that's the spoiler, now you basically know the ending.
I had stayed an extra day (last Sunday) in Athens to try to wait out the rain and cold, but it wasn't totally successful. Once I got packed up and removed the (tiny tiny) piece of metal from my rear tire - that had caused two flats - it was still in the 30's and so cloudy/humid that it would be a miracle if it didn't rain. No miracle luck on this day. Not in that way, at least!
Within 15 minutes I was glad I had already put on my rain covers, and was wearing contact lenses (glasses in the rain gets troublesome). It was pouring and I wasn't even out if town yet! But on I pedaled, and I had the relief of knowing that I had a Warmshowers host in 70 short miles (Milledgeville). But this felt surely like a low moment in the trip. Having seen Rising Appalachia already, and with no destination for 250 miles, it felt odd to just keep plunging forward, especially in less-than-pleasant weather.
15 or 20 miles into the ride, I stopped in to a gas station for a snack and to warm up. Sometimes stopping is risky when you're cold and wet, because your body temperature stays higher if you keep moving. But I needed a morale break. I paced around eating a granola bar, and eventually the cashier offered me a warm beverage on the house. That was such a lovely gesture! and one that may not happen in the same context up north. But maybe it would ....
Hot chocolate had me much warmer, and i got back on the bike. What happened next was possibly the most unexpectedly generous act of kindness to come my way on the trip, and certainly got me through to the end of that day!
It wasn't much above 40 degrees and the rain hadn't let up. As I biked through a small town, probably with as close to a frown as I am capable of, I heard from the sidewalk, "Hey Sir!" He had to yell over the rain and cars. "Hey Sir, do you need anything?!" He was a tall man in his 30's with thick round black glasses and a long plaid jacket and hat. Could have stopped out of a Dick Tracey scene. A little surprised by this stranger reaching out, I told him, in genuine response, that "Nope, I think I've got everything that I could need!" He said gently, "Well, I saw you riding back there, and just in case ..." and he handed me a folded up $5 bill. Now I didn't need $5, but i sure needed that unsolicited encouragement at just that moment. Talk about guardian angels. A bit of money was the tool this fellow needed to express his support of a fellow human being doing something less than ordinary and maybe a bit challenging. And part of my traveling intention is to humbly accept and receive help and generosity. It was a perfect exchange of humanity, and I pedaled off smiling with humbled disbelief, and the rain turning salty on my cheeks.
One thing working very much in my favor was that the further south and east I traveled, the flatter the terrain became. I was starting to make 12 or 13 miles per hour instead of 9 or 10. About halfway through the day I was passing my chance to turn toward Atlanta and catch a train home. Spurred on by support from locals, and by the thought of getting to the Hostel in the Forest in Brunswick, I stayed the course. Talking on the phone to my Warmshowers host Frank, I realized I was coming into a new accent region of the country! A little slower and deeper southern drawl than in the mountains of Western NC. When I got within a couple miles of Frank's home, it was getting dark and still raining, and the shoulder was narrowing. I called, as requested, and he was already on his way to pick me up and save me riding in rush hour traffic at dusk with no safe lane to occupy. In the time it took me to cross the 4-lane highway to a parking lot, Frank had arrived - we threw my bike in the bed of his pickup and headed to his home.
I think you would be hard-pressed to find a nicer couple than Frank and his wife Susan, and I felt so lucky to have crossed paths with them. Before we even got in from the garage, Frank was assessing how he could help fix my bike. Among other things, my pedal had nearly broken off in the last few miles. He offered his as a replacement, and tried - in vain, as I had in VT - to remove my pedal. We left the maintenance for later, and I got so thankfully showered and dry. Did a load of laundry, had a beer. These things are so exciting and luxurious when you've ridden all day, in the rain especially (and compared to soggy stealth camping ...).
Susan made a large and delicious dinner, and we had plenty of delightful conversation. The two of them, in their 60's or so, are planning for a cross-country cycling tour in March - across the southern tier of the US to San Diego. Daily training and extensive map planning - not the way I usually do it, but they have all winter to get ready so why not be totally prepared! They ride a lot but this will be their first long tour. Very exciting. After dinner we fixed my pedal and Frank helped me clean the whole bike and chain! Then I played a couple songs on the banjo and we hung out talking until later than I realized. Off to bed, because I needed to leave by sunrise to make 100 miles to Vidalia by 4pm. Sounded daunting, but worth it to have a place to stay in central Georgia where I really don't know the scene enough to confidently pitch a tent in any old piece of woods. This entry ends here.