The culture cipher arrives. Cuarenta.
I wake up and pack up. No coffee. One movement from the digestion orchestra. I’m ready to make up the miles we lost yesterday. Plus it’s bike path for 15 out of the first 24 miles. Motivation and energy coincide and I get my Ramadan on for the first couples hours of the day.
Though I’m complaining less, we are still without a tail wind. Outside of the ride into NOLA, it’s been side or headwinds every day since we Texas. Maybe I need to change the name of this blog. Today it’s gulf coast force winds in our face. More noticeable than the last few days because there’s a storm on our tail. A storm we probably could have successfully beaten out of the gulf coast if we hadn’t spent yesterday on hold. There’s wasn’t even hold music. Nonetheless we’re going until we can’t go anymore.
I pull into our one and only Alabama Walmart. God is great, as long as god is either you or me, or maybe them. Maybe. I score three bike tubes, some bananas and a salad. The salad is my 500 calorie break fast. I like my women like I like my Walmart salads: lightly dressed and bold enough to break shit.
Damon chomps vegan cookies and applauds the Alabama level of masking inside the store. I don’t even notice that kinda shit anymore; instead I’m striking up a conversation with an employee named Erica. She says she used to travel around a lot more. She’s awesome. Erica tells me she’s gonna pray for us. I want to have the god discussion but instead accept this sorta thing and later mention all of it to Damon a few miles up. So much praying for him and I, probably for nothing. Damon speaks fluent hipster, his only reply is “we’ve mad angels in the outfield bro”. Sho nuff and praise jeebus.
I am fairly certain it is Tuesday or Wednesday and this Gulf Coast bike path is in high demand. Traffic volume that isn’t reported on your local morning news. Groups. Families. How many of these folks even know that this bike path is a published cross country route?
State numero ocho! Florida gives us a sign and a few miles up we meet a rate fellow long haul cyclist heading in the other direction. I can tell by his gear load. We stop and chat. His name is Justin. We hold a conversation across a traffically-thunderous two way road. He started in Key West, up to St Augustine, on to San Diego, then on to Santa Cruz. Fantastic. He’s super optimistic and it gives me a boost too.
The sunshine state. I’ve been inside you so often. Most of your major cities. I’ve biked your Keys. The whole set of them. The volume of motorists motorizing goes way up. The quality of motorists motorizing diminishes. Your roads are pretty good so far. Florida is showing me the hidden chambers where dodging hanging vines over the shoulder while dodging vehicular traffic in the road is the ultimate maneuver. We have only thirty five chambers, there is no thirty sixth. I know that but I want to create a new chamber. Oh and what would that be?
Break time in Pensacola provides an afternoon outdoor bar hang. The bartender Nick tells me that the bar is owned by a brewery and they has a party and drank all of their beer. They are out of beer. Only in Florida. We settle on afternoon cocktails instead. Feels good; a unique feeling being back east. Familiarity and funkiness. Damon, in his fluent hipster, calls it a vibe. He’s been struggling over something today so hopefully this can recharge his batteries a little bit. Another place up the road take claims to be the original bacon cheeseburger circa 1939; their logo is a pig with wings. I didn’t get a photo but I have serious concerns about the validity of their claims. I guess I should have stopped.
A dozen miles out of Pensacola and our Nolan Ryan-esque no hitter streak of staying out of the rain ends. Sort of. Add an asterisk. Lightning fills the sky and the humidity goes through the roof. As the lightning frequency increases, I pull off under cover of a store. There’s ketchup and mustard on the weather radar. This is five minutes before the downpour. And it is a downpour, with plenty of rolling thunder and lightning. This 15 minutes before Dave saves us 8 miles in rain and wind and lightning by picking us up and delivering us back to his place for the night. He’s got a trailer we load out bikes on and we manage to somehow stay dry. Yet another angel in the outfield, as Damon put it.
Back at Dave’s place, his wife Stacy is hooking up what is one of best — if not the best — meal of the tour. Shrimp tacos for me. Jackfruit tacos for Damon. I crush maybe 6 or 7 tacos. Dave is basically building their house while they live in it. It’s got steel beams to survive hurricane winds. It’s got an upstairs sort of bungalow for us to crash in. I mingle with their dog Tank and a couple of the handful of cats perusing around. Tank is 13 or 14 and recently lost his doggie friend. Dave and Stacy foster kittens. One is named Domino. One is Devito. One named Queso jumps up and lays next to me, purring away. I think it’s Queso. It wasn’t Domino. It could be a rotation of pussy sleeping with me all night for all I know. The rain beats on the metal roof; natural white noise is in full effect and I am grateful to be dry.