It’s that moment when we’re all called to question our true moral compass. Our primitive instinct to do what is right becomes stressed. It’s a true test of one’s sensibilities and dexterity as a sentient living being on planet earth. When that universal human characteristic— hypocrisy — comes calling, and you find yourself asking…
Do I drink the water?
I must remind everyone here that by reading these words you hereby imply consent to Bruce Lee’s insistence that we try to be more like water. It’s in the metadata. Or the metaverse. Think of it like a seatbelt for this ride we’re on together. Or a helmet if you’re driving and reading this.
Now that we’ve gotten that out the way. I’ve asked this shit myself many a times. You know… should I drink the water? Asked myself it in Mexico. And Cuba. Nepal. Prague. Myanmar. Flint. I gave up drinking tap water at home a while back. Now I’m standing at the first public bathroom I’ve seen today. I’m thirsty as fuck, thanks to that bridge over the Caloosahatchee River this morning.
For sure though, this is definitely the first oasis from the midday sun. I’m not used to the heat yet. I do love it, I just gotta settle into it. It doesn’t look like much — this public outhouse nor me in heat. Some grimy young white dude walks up to me, smoking a black and mild, talking about about my bike and bags. Cool. I listen, thinking to myself, I bet this guy raps. He’s probably gonna rap…. He doesn’t rap, but I give him the softest of fist bumps, cause why not? Immediately afterward he dives into his disability (is it in his knuckles?) and about how broke and helpless he feels. This has gone in a completely other direction, now I wish he was just rapping at me. Hmmmm. Ok. I offer up that it’s a beautiful day today and I agree that the cost of living is too high and wages need a massive increase for sure — I’m about to get into unions and the really real for a minute but his lady calls him back over, telling him to leave me alone. Strange first encounter with the people of southwest Florida indeed.
I return my attention to the matter at hand. Perfection is perfected so imma let ‘em understand. Hydrations. It’s getting hottern July out, Stevie. This oasis has got a covered picnic table but that’s about it. No water fountains. None of it looks nothing the Big Berkey (who doesn’t pay me but should) water filter system in my kitchen, not. If my kitchen were Kansas, then I am not in Kansas anymore. My only hope isn’t Obi-Wan but that there’s a god forsaken functioning (and preferably cold) sink in the bathroom. Now I’m rushed with recollections of every single bathroom I’ve ever used on a long bike ride. My life is flashing before my eyes for all I know. Is this the end? A series of shits and pisses and then lights out. Nope. Still not dead. But my mental optic is filing through the wide range of toilets like some sort of Rolodex for bodily functions. I one inch punch it all out of my mind — focusing on the fact that Right Mindfulness of one the my favorite components of the 8 fold path. And that comparisons are futile. Fuck it. Hypocrisy kicks in like survival instincts on a dying planet that the wealthiest are convinced they can escape from — I’m drinking the goddamn water. I head in and…. it’s not too bad.
Be kind and rewind about 12 miles ago, before the bridge. I’ve stopped off at a bike shop for what I hope is a $40 rear derailleur adjustment. After reattaching the derailleur during reassembly of the Space Horse, I’ve got lots of gears jumping and clicking. After exhausting my patience (which is little in this department) on the hi and lo screws, I’m standing in JRA Bicycle Company. Out front an discreet window decal displays, “Just Riding Along”. I like it. Reading it feels like medicine. Standing inside feels even better. Unassuming locally owned shop. Ten minutes later and I’m good to go. I go to settle for the quality service and Dave won’t take my money. Small amounts of Trail Magic emerge on day one! I ask him to hold a chain for purchase when I get back in 800 miles, knowing I’ll need it. Support your local bike shop.
Ok. Back to right now. Like right now right now. I fill up, pack up, and move out. This bathroom is on a small bike trail;
Which becomes a small bike trail containing a myriad of “road closed” signs and barricades on it (which I ignore, obv);
Which becomes a bit of a turnaround when my right of way is obstructed by working excavating paving vehicles;
Which becomes a striped on road bike lane with two full lanes of traffic on my left AND my right — which is definitely a new one for me;
Which becomes a strip mall adjacent sidewalk “bike path”, which nearly sees me get murked by more than one four wheels death bomb that won’t stop at stop signs;
Which becomes me taking one half of one of three lanes of traffic as Floridians fly by me at 50-60 mph. All seem to be on their way to the next red light. Most are actually cool with having two full lanes to do what they need to do. About 10% lay on the horn or shout or pass a few inches from me — they can die choking on my nut sack. After a few miles I turn off onto a quieter back road, eager to ease my nerves. I fire up some music and proceed to refuel mid flight on some gourmet trail mix.
Miles roll on and my mind rolls with it, drifting deeply into meditation. Space and time evolve moment by moment. This is my first long ride solo since 2019. Back before the Great Panda heralded a new dawn of bike touring with friends. It’s not a game. Word. It’s massive miles with the likes of Damon and Daniel and Chad and Kara. These are my people. Then and the countless others I’ve met riding or hosting or guessing. The sub culture is as strong as Desus & Meros brand. Look it up. My third eye fixates on a some sort of symmetry in all this, with the years and the rides and the pandemics going endemic and all, yet my other two eyes know shit will never be the same. How can five dollars be the new one dollar? And if it is, why do we still have the penny? The quiet time has me almost operating on auto pilot when, whoa girl! Easy there Space Horse! I pull back on the reigns and what the actual fuck? An avant-garde post modern pop up photo shoot erupts. Possibly the gayest shit you’ve ever seen. Two steeds. One mechanical, one biological. Neither of which has any issue working the camera. They need no direction nor motivation. They are not horsing around. Even a wonderfully magnificent tree photobombs the whole thing on some “this is my turf, I been here” shit. The break in motion smacks be back into the here and now, enthused to be an opportunistic documentarian of life at best.
I cross the Caloosahatchee River again, pushing out the last 10 miles to Caloosahatchee State Park. Or Regional Park. It’s confusing, because Floriduh. I wanna make a Caloosahatchee joke here. I can’t. It’ll be fifteen dollars. The campground rate that is. No one would pay me a penny to be funny.
The State, er the region — makes people park and camp in their tents 50-200 feet away from their cars. “Primitive” camping they call it, only there’s showers and a restroom with outlets. And little carts for people to wheel all sorts of stuff to their primitive experience. My sarcasm and cynicism dries up quicker than a vagina with sand in it because this campsite is actually dope. Take my money please. All fifteen of my dollars. Actually, I made a reservation last week, knowing the variables on day one typically demand a shorter day. It’s my only reservation of the ride. I check in and pop up the palace. Big Agnes doesn’t pay me, though they should. Or at least hit me with some free gear.
A gentleman with a thick accent approaches me as a type this; let’s call him Pedro. Pedro kinda looks like a Pedro, or maybe a Pierre. Let’s go with Pedro, at least for now. I’m hos best English, Pedro explains that he is on his way to the market, back by 1900… do I want anything? A couple and their young kids roll by on mountain bikes. Pedro has gotta be European. Here in this bizarro world of primitive camping, no one can tell I’m without a motor vehicle. Everyone has brought bikes in there pickups. They all think I have a car to hide inside in case of rain. Except Pedro. Pedro recognizes the fully loaded two wheel pedal powered stallion and respects it. I thank Pedro and decline. He heads back along the trail and ten feet later adds, maybe beer or wine? Man, Pedro is definitely on some Euro level tour hospitality. I’m gonna go ahead and now say his name is actually Pierre because I’m also now saying he’s from France. I have no basis. I must be dehydrated. For a minute and for some strange reason it feels like I’m back on the Repeat Offenders tour of 2015, where hospitality went through the roof because hip hop music. I consider a cold beer for a second and decide I’m good with my massive amounts of water, electrolyte tablets, ibuprofen, and tart cherry juice. Merci Pierre. An hour later and I’m taking a leisurely hike down to the river. I didn’t bring my camera so no photos for you. Shower. Noodles. Wonderful! Yes indeed, this shit is on like Donkey Kong. Base Level Remote Sleeping, that is. Look it up, it’s a thing. No it’s not. But it is now. Just a primer. Pro tip. Just the tip. Settle down.
I settle in, looking up at Orion’s Belt from inside the luxuriously screened confines of my Fly Creek Bikepack tent (come on Big Agnes!). Clouds roll in and a big bright moon lights my campground. So brightly, I don’t even need a flash on my camera to capture it. I slowly doze off on day numero uno of the Loop Full of FLowers 2022.