We’re just babies, man.
In some alternate reality, gentleman volunteer Juan Ponce de Leon — who despite historical inaccuracies was never searching for a fountain of youth — finds such a thing and is stuck in a time loop, repeating his life up until that glorious moment he takes a refreshing outdoor bath. Can one get better at living forever?
In another reality I ride my bicycle to Ponce de Leon Springs, an aquifer-fed spring which is a continual 68° Fahrenheit no matter what. It’s a cool, cloudy late afternoon and I pay the $2. After a day of riding in the rain, I take the first dip of the tour alongside some fish and possibly an alligator. All of this, the bike, the spring, the lush green — it’s a recipe for time traveling back to Dave hooking up last night’s shrimp with some eggs for breakfast.
He and I are up early eating together. I’m thinking how I really love using last nights dinner as breakfast and then Dave mentions the exact phenomena in a Florida panhandle manner of speaking. Dave mentions that he usually intermittently fasts even though he loves breakfast food; he will eat breakfast for dinner. Me too. Dave and I are kinda the same, except that he’s retired and I’m not and he’s married and I’m not and he’s a father and I’m now. So maybe we’re not the same. We definitely both love seafood and the shrimp and eggs and peppers is bomb. Thanks Dave and Stacy.
After thanking Stacy and Dave for all their hospitality, Damon and I roll out from the barn under a few sprinkles — back along US Route 90 for yet another few more days now. Right now. Good old 90. And now right now those sprinkles have made the water procreation and have exponentially increased into a traditional Florida late-morning-pouring. It’s coming down steadily after only a mile or two and it doesn’t let up for the remainder of the am. There goes the official no hitter.
Riding in the rain is a tradition carried forward by bicycle tourists over the ages. It is the Spoke Gods coming for their due. They must soak us and we must ride in it. My armpit-zippered magic raincoat is utterly powerless in stopping this rain. I move faster — getting up to a steady 15 mph into this rain and headwind. Nice shoulder, Florida. Damon falls behind early, I suspect he’s still feeling down and this is definitely the first time he’s had to endure this sort of ride — it can be debilitating if you let it.
Riding in the rain on tour is a preference, I suppose. I imagine some would just sit inside a hotel room. Or stay a second night at a warm showers host. Or hang out under a covered picnic table, waiting for the radar to clear up a bit. I’ve done a little of that here and there, though I typically ride. I stay out of lightning but I’ve come to enjoy the rain. I find the key is a return to childhood-like frame of mind. Like splashing around in puddles during a downpour at some single digit age and not giving a flying fuck how wet you get. That sorta mindset. Adulthood seduces us into bourgeois umbrellas or canceling plans or running out of cars and into buildings — all over what, fear of some wicked-witch style death? Six million ways to die, this ain’t one, my pretty. I take solace in the rain and while I’d rather shower in the sunshine, I accept the wetness with open arms. I am one with the moisture. Humidity gawd. I’ve got the latest episode of the Stretch & Bobbito radio show blasting as loud as it can go.
Im freezing my ass off. Like the rent, the AC is too damn high. Why is it even on? I’m in this Crestview Florida coffee house taking a break out of the rain with a very large “medium” latte. Damon is not feeling well and is a few miles behind me and so I’m on a couch reading maps, sipping the coffee and shivering my ass off. It’s warmer outside in the rain. Damon is at the Burger King on 90. I’m done with hanging anywhere near any of that bullshit just because they have vegan whoppers. He’s my dude but this is more my speed. Fuck a multinational corporation selling us hologram foods. Shits not very king-like in my view. By the time we regroup and get moving, the rain has let up a bit. Just a few sprinkles, and even the sun is trying to overtake a few clouds.
Twenty eight miles up with only a few showers and we make it to DeFuniak Springs. With a big F. Capital F, I mean. A little Yoda-like, this place is. There’s gotta be 30 different church signs welcoming us into town, each only 10 feet apart. There’s a sign for sanctuary. Then we find sanctuary. Our form of it.
It’s not an official campground but it’s still almost a perfect campground, especially in rain. I’ve heard we can set up here without a problem. There’s restrooms and water and electric and amphitheater coverage, all around the perfectly circular Lake DeFuniak. We’ve got 60 plus miles knocked out on the day. Peanut butter banana burritos are consumed. Another avian photo shoot pops up. I share a couple words with a pretty odd local walking around doing Tourette’s like shit, though I’m pretty sure he’s not afflicted with that specific syndrome. The weather is now looking quite good for the remainder of the evening; bail on this Dagobah system, we do. On to a place on the map called Ponce de Leon, population 598.
Twelve miles later and Ponce de Leon is now home to 600 humans. I’m handing a couple Washingtons to the homie at the gate of Ponce de Leon Springs State Park and hoping we can sleep in a park that doesn’t have campsites. I geek out over the springs regardless and take aim at my first swim in a natural body of water this trip! It’s definitely refreshing though I would have preferred to see the alligators sign first.
Nonetheless neither I nor my dude Juan P of L were looking for a fountain of youth, though I’m elated to discover this spot along the expedition.
It all sorta crashes down when the front gate homie walks over to tell me he’s closing the gate. He doesn’t say no camping but it’s sorta implied. This place is a small state park and seems to be fenced in; the front gate is certainly of the formidable variety. We could have tried to hide, though we’re the only ones here. I bet the 1st, 3rd and 7th governor of Puerto Rico would let us stay. We pack up and roll out as the sun sets. Damon is feeling better but I can tell he wants to just grab the only motel nearby rather than stake out another spot to tent, so we’re now basked in the blue light of the Ponce de Leon Motel. I intend to sleep like a baby. Or maybe a baby Yoda.