Day 10. 576 Miles. The Blowout, The Brew, and The Brotherhood.

My cousin gets his kids up for school and gets out the door all while setting me up to make some morning coffee. This is how I know we’re related. He’s a pour over OG. Like since way back. Classic style. I love it. I pour like I’ve never poured before. The simplicity speaks logically to me… be the coffee machine. Plus gravity. Plus then I hit the Publix 4 miles up. It’s 2.5 miles further than another one, but this one has green lines on the Google maps all the way to it (which is back online, in case I’m your source for updates on the suite of Google products — pay me, Google). Except the first/last 1/2 mile or so has no green line. Challenge accepted. Shit is real deal Holyfield, so I leave my helmet home and Pool Noodle Petra and I let these motherfuckers know that streets belong to people… and pool noodles.

Mother Nature let it all out yesterday and is in a much better state of being today. Beautiful riding environment. 70° and blue skies. The wind is calmer this morning, yet still noticeable, and noticeably out of the west. A lot of noticeability, ya notice? Oh yeah. Guess which direction I’m headed for the first thirty miles? Loop full of headwinds, for cereals.

Oh winds and hills. Oh hills and winds. Hot tub time machine yourself to the end of the day and then back here right away, just to learn that I somehow gain 1,500 in elevation today. I’ve gone off about Flat Earth Floriduh riding in the panhandle exactly one a year ago, no need to time travel there when you can read it here. So this West Orange Trail is pretty great. Without vehicles, with some shade. Very nice, Borat. What’s up vanilla face? Between this and the soon to connect with South Lake Apopka Trail, at least this headwinded 30 miles is all non motorized. A passing cyclist waves and looks and exclaims “nice!”. I can’t tell if the comment is because I’m fully loaded. Or because of the flag. I really honestly think it’s Petra. Even though she’s all tucked straight back like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs on account of this trails lack of four wheel vehicles — she’s still pretty awesomely on display in all her traffic calming glory. Ah shit. And damnit. I miss the trail connection back two miles uphill.

Lots of passing cyclists and joggers and walkers. Only a few acknowledge. Now that’s strange. You see me. I guess. Certainly I at least nod to them, yo. Probably 50 times today. The shit that makes your head nod. Keeps my neck muscles loose too. I’ve documented the holy trinity of nod, wave or spoken hello on this site previously. Can’t link it, look it up. It’s not happening much here. The nodding. Maybe the looking things up as well. I dunno. I don’t care much, it’s a glorious trail. The winds are mos def now at much more strumpf. Probably gusting to 18-20. In my face. I push it. Ah push it. Real good. I’ve got no shirt, no cap, no helmet for the entire afternoon, all the way to Clermont Brewing Company for an early afternoon caloric refresher. Hold the salt N pepa.

Somewhere around mile eighteen I stop in the shade of a highway underpass to top off the front tire. I like touring at the top of the pressure range recommended for flat protection purposes. Woo. It needed it. I take it all the way to 8.5 bars. Somewhere around mile twenty Black Thought is going in on his 16 bars on Common’s “When We Move”.

BANG! Shits fired. Nope. Front wheel down. Blow out. Wow that’s a loud one. I pray to the spoke gods old and new that it’s the tube and not the tire as I come to a bumpy stop under a tree. My mind flashes back to rebuilding my back tire with duct tape near Ticonderoga circa 2006. I scan worriedly. Definitely just the tube! Gracias spoke gods. Also grateful this happens on a non motor trail and not a highway shoulder, so I swap out the tube, fill only to 7.7 bars and pocket the rest of the miles on the trail into Clermont.

A touristy little historic downtown is jumping with folks who are not at work on a Friday afternoon. I am one of them. Hell yes. The strawberry blond here is fabulous. Not too strawberry at all. The beer too. Crisp light and refreshing. I handle some short bike ride biz (code word for slow roll buffalo) and check the route maps. I’m back on the ACA map and happy about it. Back with the fossil fuelers though. About 30 miles of sprawl left. The state park 10 miles up is full with no campgrounds open. I could stop there and plead my case. Plenty of daylight left today. I decide to push out into the unknown, or more specifically the entire Walt Disney World thingamabob.

Sidebar your honor. So I’ve been to Walt Disney World probably seven times at least. I was a kid and I still can’t keep count. Family vacation shit. I remember when Epcot opened, people were bugging out. And it was kinda cool. Maybe that’s why I like nation hopping. Since then the whole thing multiplied one attraction after another. The ouroboros again. It got corny. Maybe it always was. I could probably get down with any of it for one day, then it’s played out. The best shit I ever got out of all this whimsical corporatist propaganda was a wonderful profile pic. The MF OG unicorn, bitches.

This state park ranger is a total douchebag right about now. Like right now. Like now. Now. There’s no “primitive” sites available so he wants me to pay $50 to set up in between RVs. Fuck all that noise. He gets no name and I move southbound on the shoulder of highway 27. Vehicles in full force, vrooming and showing off their insecurities on the roadway. It’s now Friday rush hour; Petra is vigilant and so I am. The wind is now on my right and having a non headwind is absolute “muah”. The hills and rolling and I’m pedaling at 16-20mph, eventually jumping off to smaller roads and skirting easy; catching the tailwind for the next 6 miles.

just a mile or two away from the “happiest place on earth” and what I’m guessing is typically a slow quiet road is now a detoured highway reroute — jammed up in an hour-long 3 mile stretch of nearly standstill traffic. It’s difficult for me to get through because there’s not even a shoulder. When traffic moves I dip in and move the same speed in between cars. Then they pick up until one finally gets impatient and nudges past me. Some try it and then get stuck next to me. Some others do that and are large 18 wheelers going 10 mph next me, squeezing me off the road as the dirt half of his truck passes me. What the fuck yo!! No pool noodle can save me now so my first instinct is to shift up and stand up and burn rubber up ahead of him and let him know how I really feel. I said it I meant it. What?

The sun’s getting low big guy and I’m concerned about advanced remote sleeping locations. Not a lot of good spots, honestly. Still in the resort suburb sprawl around whatever part of being near the magic kingdom this is. Literally I’m on Ronald Reagan Parkway waiting for my trickle down. 40 plus years later and still nothing. Ronald Wilson Reagan. 666. If you’re confused, I’ll let Michael Render tell it.

Yeah. It’s getting dark dark. My best plan right now is to set up behind an unoccupied new build with a for sale sign out front. Not my favorite idea due to the potential of a waking up to a loaded shotgun in my face at 1am, bu…. Oh shit! Polk Country Fire Station 20.

The captain on duty has no problem with me setting up camp behind the station. He lets me know it’s not very quiet. I let him know I’d rather not be on the road after dark and I have have earplugs. There’s a train and a road and they are all going to make noise all night. Whatever. I’ll make do. I thank them and pop up the palace. Shoot the shit with them as well. They’re a paid department, working for the county. Used to be volunteer, that got phased out years ago. I guess this is a byproduct of all that sprawl? Maybe there’s a silver lining. They cover a larger area and all those people need EMS and Fire response so the county deems it feasible to pay professionals. They’re fully nationally certified firefighters and run three people on the engine and are all EMTs (like my department) with one paramedic on duty as well. Firefighter Kyle tells me they work 24 on and 48 off. Yikes. I’m fortunate to have 4 crews for a 24/72 rotation, what he calls Delta schedule. I pop into the tent. The roar of traffic 50 feet in one direction and the earth rumbling from passing trains 50 feet in another and what sounds like wild animals fighting or fucking in another direction set me up for what might be an interesting night under the stars.

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Day 9. 507 Miles. Bender, No Fender b/w Strange, No Stranger.

I wake up and forget where I am. Weird. Also goddamn my head is pounding. ¡Aye aye aye, no me lo gusta! Part sun blistered dehydration and part hangover, I’d bet. I don’t gamble though, well only with my life. It’s taking me a while to shake the sluggishness. Next to me, in bed, is a piece of tortilla I guess I was eating before passing out last night. Damn shit got real. I should have my phone examined. I’m in no rush, it’s coming down buckets outside. Cats and dogs. Puddles of poodles. I take a shower to further clean out the cobwebs. Pop some ibuprofen, don the rain coat and head out on foot to break the fast and feed the beast. I’m hungry as fuck. “Thinking about the past week, the last week…. Hands go in my pocket, I can’t speak.” Science damnit! I didn’t leave my wallet in El Segundo; I did leave my credit card at the bar last night. Again, I should have my head examined. Luckily, our capitalist democracy blesses me with two (more like 4) thin forms of debt inducing plastic cardery… Chicanery… Chicory….Mmmm. Coffee and a spicy breakfast sammich and I am ready to rock out with my smock out. You know, like third grade art class. Does art class even exist anymore? I’m instantly re-humanized —- the humanity! So yeah I’m ready, Mother Nature not so much. She’s giving us all the precipitation she finds possible. I check my weather app. Well fuck me without a reacharound Moms N, there’s lightning and the word tornado comes up. This is worse than the dolor de mi cabeza, this deep seeded phobia shit rearing it’s head. Rattling around in there is an exchange between Chappelle and Garofalo. “I must seek Buddha. I must seek Christ.” “You must seek therapy”.

Tell me your deepest darkest fears, why don’t you? Nah for real if someone asks you what you’re (most) afraid of, does it take some time to figure out? Or does one obvious thing pop right up? I use to struggle with an answer. Now, for me it’s plain an d simple: I am afraid of tornadoes on long bike rides. Like out in the middle of nowhere – with nowhere to run to baby, nowhere to hide. No Martha Reeeves. No Vandellas. No no no. No sir I don’t like it. This clear cut phobia has its origin story in grainy sepia filtered flashbacks set more than a decade ago, seeing a tornado on the northern tier route in Minnesota. Then again just feeling like one is coming during a storm in rural Louisiana last year on the southern tier. I don’t wanna play this game. Check out is 11am, I don’t care. I resign myself to the indoor holding pattern while I study the radar.

Al Roker ain’t got shit on me except tho use designer frames. A gap in the weather forms and I head out as soon as the downpour let’s up: destination the worst bicycling city in American aka Orlando aka whatever nickname the local use. At least the outer edge of it. Less than twenty miles up a size lane road. Pool Noodle Petra is in full position and ready to rock, wearing her Sunday best – even though it’s Thursday. Seven minutes and seven seconds in and evidentially I am not the professional meteorologist I think I am. Like crystal fucking clear. Weatherman are dumb but firemen (at least this one) are even dumber, proudly. One more dump of drenching rainfall manifests in blinding sheets of water and I am thoroughly soaked in three minutes. Its cooling yet sort of hurts. I pull off and head under a park shelter to let it (hopefully) pass – maybe it’ll still open up into the actual window I think I have.

It works. Sort of. The heaviest rains subside. Plenty of drizzle. Still some serious storm clouds and lightning on the radar. Trucks fly by and spray me with mist from dirty gutter road water. Typically, I’d never leave out on a long ride with out fenders. I’m so atypical. Fenderless. My drive train is filthy. My legs are caked with various debris off the shoulder. Probably a new variant in there somewhere. Yum. I push the short distance to the rendezvous point, linking up with my cousin, Tony G. He’s the oldest grandchild and I’m the youngest grandchild on my dads/his moms side, separated by some twenty years – yet pretty similar within the family comparatively. I imagine he might have been the strange one before I came along. Now he’s second fiddle. Ok maybe now I’m second fiddle, since we’ve added a lot more weirdos to the clan since the 70s. I consider it his more carefully and I realize neither of us probably even qualify for a chair in the orchestra anymore. No fiddlers. No roofs. None of that. We’re tame by Gen Z standards. Weird has gotten a whole lot weirder ever since Al Gore invented the internet. To remix some content from a sign I’m seeing a lot: “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted For Nader”. Ouch. Too soon?

So yeah. I strip the Summer Horse of its baggage and toss it into Tony’s SUV. We whisk away the last whatever miles at 55mph to his house on the outskirts of orlando. All of Orlando is sort of one big outskirt isn’t it? Like just one big giant suburb popped up around that human popsicle Walt Disney’s megalomaniacal dream come true. I haven’t seen him since he ventured up to Gainesville last year on my second to last day riding coast to coast. I haven’t seen his kids since they were tiny so they really have no idea who I am. Tony, not Walt. Pronouns problems.

Cuz is a professor with tons of books on books on books with two every teenage kids who really don’t know me. Haven’t seen them in over a decade. I’m instantly stranger danger. And yes I am strange. By the end of it we agree on things like art and “cool” and that when his youngest comes to visit me in Buffalo, he will be the stranger. Rain has once again starting bucketing down and I’m grateful to not be in it. We shoot the shit and whatever and he hooks up some amazing jackfruit tacos for dinner. Despite the low mileage today, i crush like 5 of them. Tacos not miles. My plans to head into the city to see friends and seek ink dissolve into a couch turned bed and right now you’re realizing that a short day equals a short entry and I’m realizing how these last two days are a fantastic holiday.

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Day 8. 493 Miles. Climbing Mount Dora.

I’m in this campground til after 10am. Latest roll out so far. Getting my twenty dollars worth of primitive. I make what for various reasons is somehow my first campground coffee of the ride. It’s exquisite, unlike my plan for the next couple days. Jive turkeys invade my space.

I map out some things. Orlando is apparently the most dangerous place to bicycle in. Challenge coin? I decide on a short day toward historic Mount Dora. Anywhere “mount” and “historic” in Floriduh is intriguing and amusing. I hear there are hills. I want them. I know there’s wind. Coming from the direction I’m heading. I don’t want that. I pack it all up an head toward the water station and ferry.

Hills and winds are my copassengers on today’s fantastic voyage. That and my belief in pool noodle. She keeps me safe. I name her Petra. Pool Noodle Petra and I are like Wilson and Tom Hanks. Except I’d never treat a her the way Tom did that soccer ball. Dirty. You’re wrong Tom, so wrong.

Pedaling downhill and upwind is like missing the best part of something. It ruins what should be much more fun, so much so that it’s nauseating. I’m legitimately nauseous right now because of it. Or maybe it’s because of the entire bag of hot Takis that I ate last night. So much red number 4. Eventually I get to some nicely rolling hills. I’m up and down and I’m and down. I’ve hit the sweet spot, where I’ve normalized riding 70 miles a day, so a short 35 mile day helps me align my thoughts a bit. I’m in that happy spot, in tune with the environment and the natural world. I’ve got a turn coming up that I’ve been anticipating. Thrill Hill.

It doesn’t disappoint. A couple long climbs and one big old thrilling downhill. I hit the top of the climbing and let out a loud whoop. Cuz I’m whopped. I shift gears and begin the roll down. I just hit 37mph. Like just now. Im pretty sure I should not be texting and riding this fast at the same time. The front bags keep my horse steady as I push it to 40mph. It’s a rush and I take a slight decline all the way into tiny historic Mount Dora, elevation 184 feet. Looks like rain for the evening; I’m eager to explore a bit on foot and could use an evening lounging — so I opt for an historic cottage for the night, a nice little treat indeed.

Fast forward that ass way past all sorts of things that I’ve been blabbering about the last week. Bike ride stuff and all. Keep hitting FF until the point on the space-time continuum where I’m on actual vacation. This coffee slash craft beer spot is cool slash awesome on tourist slash visitor barometers. Ask Slash — Kordell or the dude in Guns N Roses, I don’t care. I bet either will back me up on this assertion. The young ladies working here are way more intriguing than the product they’ve been serving me. Like 90% of it is sours and IPAs and I don’t really like either. I get a barley wine. My intrigue I partly because of gorgeous smiles and friendliness, though mostly because Jaide here does small stick and poke tattoos. And I need a travel souvenir. Poke poke poke? I’m working out the deets with her now. It’s gotta be tonight or bust so it’s probably not gonna happen. Hard timeline. Meh. Her coworker Mera is actually the diamond and they definitely should unionize. Unless one of them owns the joint, then they should worker coop it for sure. A warm fuzzy feeling takes hold and I realize that this is what totally vacating feels like. Holiday! Hurray!

Later, some young dude with dreads walks by and tells his girlfriend how astounded he is that his dad something something the BMW and something something insurance – and I right now really actually realize I am really really on vacation now. Really. No riding. Just hanging out. Here the fuck I am. In the present moment and cashing in on my floating paid time off for this experience. My old pup Isis would have a sissyfit right about now. About this dumb ass deadlocked white boy, not my time off. Isis been a down ass bitch since way before Islamic terrorists stole her name — she’s never been very accepting any sort of cultural appropriation, especially the whole white people with dreadlocks variety. Barks at them hard, every single one of ‘em. Dogs know. I think of her and miss her. Wish you were here. You and Banh Mi. I walk on, checking out five blocks of this tiny little downtown. The sun it setting slowly.

Fast forward again and the staff is apologizing because my dinner is hella delayed. They tell they are shucking my oysters ahora. Really? Ok. They arrive. Creamy as fuxk. Yum. I order a negroni. I’m still on oyster Number three. It’s getting dark. This doesn’t feel like a bike tour. There’s all sorts of formal wear folks doing all sorts of shaking of cocktails in this open-container historically designated so and so. I’ve got some Grant work due back home, I consider heading in to knock it out… Butt.

I walk around more of this cutesy tourist haven, catching excerpts of tender moments from young lovers, interactions between retirees, and other little tidbits. I’m pretty sure I’ve covered all of it. I think too much about the sociological experiment that is my life. Sociology? Mixology? Numerology? Don’t know much about history. Don’t know much biology. I dunno Sam Cooke. I can’t call it. I continue bar hopping. I head back to the beer/coffee place. Jaide’s gone, Mera is still working. Putting up with tourists shit. Like mine. Eventually I finish up and head home. No souvenir today. I’d describe me passing out but I don’t remember it.

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