Don’t say you didn’t see it coming. Picture me dragging ass out of camp today. Sore and exhausted. Getting my moneys worth. I haven’t paid yet but I intend to, despite knowing i can easily wiggle out of these obtuse accommodations. I’m going with it though. The bathrooms and picnic table and electricity help me transition into another realm of this ride: I’m going off route. I’ve actually been “off route” since the Lake Okeechobee Scenic Trail closing detour, figuring out the best way forward, and balancing what Google maps tells me with what other people tell me with what is practical. The Google maps may suggest horrifically impassable dirt or mud roads or the Google maps maps may suggest a terrifyingly heavy traffic-volume highway. I seek the middle way. Over coffee and a date.
The Adventure Cycling Association map that I’ve acquired (see above) has me routed out of South Bay via good ol’ Highway 27 aka “bloody 27” aka “That’d be suicide” through the Everglades into Fort Lauderdale. I don’t need to go there anymore, since I got peoples with a landing spot in West Palm Beach. It’s a little further up the Atlantic coast so I have the option of heading due East rather than southeast on the death road. There’s some canal roads and another highway running east. Looks like I could avoid a majority of Highway 98/80/something else, at least until it becomes a striped bike lane through the suburban sprawl. I’m pondering the options when Squirt approaches. He looks me up and down and asks me how much all my ink set me back. He doesn’t say it that way though. I laugh and let him know it’s a collection and definitely an expensive addiction, though not too unhealthy, comparatively. Squirt insists his addiction is to sugar and it’s good for his pancreatic health, which is the key to his being alive at 92. He doesn’t have die-uh-bee-tuss and has “been drinking cola Pepsi” his whole life. I can’t argue with the old man. He’s 92. He’s ambulatory, has got decent vision and all the ladies in the RV community seem to love him. Go ahead, Squirt – you’re cool because you’re not a Boomer.
A shit and a shower later and I’m finally packing up. Still figuring on a route, I’m thinking back canal roads as opposed to the higher volume road. Either way there’s very little in front of me for the next 40 miles, a promise myself to take it 10-15 miles at a time. I think by this point Squirt has made the full loop — something the group of grannies does in one eighth the time — because he’s twenty five feet away gabbing with Debbie. He waddles back over, “let me give you some advice young man, I’d stay away from 880”. 880 is the canal route. Now he’s suggesting I take the heavier road, Southern Blvd. What the fuck, sir? I implore he elaborate on his advice. Squirt is concerned about the berth of trucks and myself. Basically how wide this back road is. There will be farm and machinery trucks on it. He tells me he’s afraid two trucks would have to pass each other and that not leave any room for me. It’s valid and it warms my heart Squirt… and you’re wrong old timer. There’s a real discrepancy with folks understanding bicycle travel or not. All of the experience and supposed knowledge of of the region and its terrain from speeding along in a car is moot when it comes to me being on a bike. I tell Squirt, “I’m going to take a look and play it by ear, thanks”, wishing he had walked or ridden a horse and given me advice off of that.
So now I’m standing in the office trying to pay. I’m already behind schedule, I should have just taped $30 to the little electric outlet and bounced. This lady is asking me the most obtuse questions for my situation. Vehicle size? Pets? She’s just reading a computer without any context, despite me sliding in my having-rode-on-a-bicycle at the start. Taking furrevvvvvver. Oh. There’s a nice sign hanging there: “A lot of people just need someone to be kind to them today”. I take a deep breath, muster another patient smile and read my card number out loud to her. She hasn’t gotten up from her desk and is behind a plexiglass wall. Finally, she gets up to hand me the printed out 8.5×11 receipt of my stay, adding to the absurdity of this entire experience. I push off into a long and hot and sunny day toward the coast.
Lots of sugarcane, canals and general Everglade-farmland type scenes invade my eyeballs. It’s really not much of anything, other than short lush wet green and flat. Direct headwind socks me in the jaw like Mike Tyson did Zach Galafinakos in The Hangover, except it’s for real, not Hollywood. Or Bollywood. Or any of those. So really nothing like that. More like Tyson did any of these chumps. The 80s and 90s were wild.
Miles and miles stack up like rounds in a fight and I realize this ain’t no boxing match, this is an MMA fight with the heat and sun and this fucking wind! With my mind wrapped around this ultra proper descriptive metaphor, I can now accurately gauge just how badly I’m getting beaten down. And the specific science says that it is a helluva whooping. The headwind has brought me down to a 9-10 mph pace. The sun has done a number on my legs for sure. If I stop heat and bugs overtake me within minutes. Like music clubs on Frenchmen Street, there’s no cover anywhere — so I just gotta keep on keepin on, Syl Johnson.
Let’s talk about it. I always rely on paper maps. Specifically waterproof paper maps. Always. Until today. Google maps hasn’t been bad so far, keeping it quiet, yet navigable. No impassable crap as I sometimes check the overhead imagery for striping. Thinking this could become a thing. Thanks robots, you’re really starting to make life better…
I go to punch of the next 15 mile leg and bam! Like old school Batman. Or that chef Emeril with seasoning. Or The Turners… really any sort of outdated, dry and ineffective simile would work here – I’m too overwhelmed right now to think of anything actually clever: because Google Maps is down! What the fuck?! I’m leaning against a guard rail in the Everglades with just my memory of what I thought about doing earlier. This route is so fucked.
See this is that shit I’m talking about. This is how they get you. Whoever they is. Paralyzed by my own doing, I finish the last couple miles in this piece of back road and head toward the Highway know as Southern Boulevard. There’s nothing around me, hasn’t been for miles. A good 25 miles without even a store or a coffee shop or an abandoned building or a tree along the road. It reminds me of a couple stretches through Arizona due to the heat and few others in Texas for the lack of services. Just shorter in mileage: 25 miles ain’t bad, compared to 90 miles of nothing in west Texas. On the 26th mile I stop at the very first thing I see: a Dunkin Donuts. Gross. But I’m no snob. The coffee is standard but the ac and shade is primo. Muah. Everything is relative and this indoor seat and iced coffee is my cousin right now.
Eventually with no other good option, I realize I have to head directly east on Southern Blvd. so I do it. I’m doing it. Right now. Through space and time. The scenery changes more than I’ve changed clothes in three days. Here we go yo, here we go yo – so what’s the what’s the what’s the scenario? Swampy farmland gives way to suburban strip malls. Yuck. Deadly fossil fuel burning missiles fly by me at almost $5 a gallon. I take solace in the constant striped bike lane. Suburbs then to airport bypasses. I cross 95 south, whoomp there it went. 16 miles of this commotion right into west palm beach. Whew. The heat has me beat. I hit the convention center where Goonie is setting up for some rich folks art show. My man stays hustling. It’s been five or six years since I’ve seen him when he rolled through Buffalo doing trucker work. Always good to see fam, we hug it out like two grown men should. I meet Cookie from the crew and I’m given the door code. I hang a bit and then I head out, fully intending to make a b line to the spot for a dip in the pool and a shower and maybe a celebratory beer — I’ve made it from the west coast to the east coast of the state that is the syphilitic appendage of America, and it did it without getting an sort of disease. Man, I couldn’t be more wrong.
About the B line to the Airbnb part, not the disease part. I’m still clean. Well, actually I stink like all hell. That’s a whole other thing though.
Downtown WPB. Damn it’s good to be on the coast. Good to be anywhere with anything. This is especially great though, so much happening it’s like an overload of aesthetics and seduction and tranquility. Life, normally a bitch, apparently is a beach today. I’m only a mile and a half from the convention center and a food truck/brewery pop up event summons me. There’s no resistance, it feels a little like the day I got to Gainesville last year. That’s a good thing, bee tee dubs. Cisco Brewers are down from Nantucket just for me? No. Some sort of Sun Festival, let’s just say it’s all for me though, life is truly better that way. A nice light lager, a couple of fish tacos and some live music and — as the kids might say — I’m feeling the vibe. I push off making progress the 8 miles to my landing spot before the sun gets too low.
By almost 630pm, “Friday morning” is hitting just right as i hit this little city park beach in west palm. Like another 3 miles away. Public space, yay! Good vibes are good vibes. These are great vibes. Be warned though, this is definitely much less chic and hipster — which is code for much less white. So I turn down the Khruangbin yo. Take a big sip of water. My wristband from earlier makes me stand out more than the water spilled all over my shirt. Some black dude and his family spring up. He’s got some hipster ass sweatpants. Damn. I’m digging it. But I can’t get down with flip flops and socks bro. I don’t get his name but his name is definitely Al. He looks like my tenant Al even, for real. Shout out to Al. Except this Al got a wife and kids. Like 5 or 6 sons. Damn Muhammad. He says “I like yo number man!” My face definitely lights out – my sunglasses been off. I’m like, “yessir, I was born in 77 so what else could I do?” I give him a solid terrorist fist bump and blame Obama. And of course he’s all “#metoo”. Him and his wife. Both born is 77. That’s all we needed. Totes bffs fo sho Al. For real fur reel though – I’m fully immersed back into solo long ride lifestyle after three days. Run The Jewels with Pharrell and Zach from Rage Against The Machine plays softly in this public family space. Just loud enough. Deep down inside I’m elated to have reached the Atlantic Coast on bicycle two years in a row…
Yeah and for really real, these three days were definitely not those three thousand miles last year. Ask Damon Bodine. This is almost a vacation. I’m going to the Airbnb with pool, it’s a celebration, bitches.
I arrive and instantly go pool plunging. Shit is so refreshing right now. Words can’t express, so picture this.
The crew comes home. I’ve been hanging in the patio after setting up my tent. It’s a good evening catching up with Goonie and making new friends. We have both jovial and whimsical conversations and serious talks, gracefully interweaving the two over cheap beer. Eventually everyone except Cookie and I are left, and he starts oil painting on canvas. My peoples. I salute him and crawl into the outdoor palace. It’s quiet and dark and cozy and I’m so ready for some solid zees.