Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's always sunny in Florida

No, its not. My first four days in fact were overcast, gray days with either rain or the threat of it lingering around like a slow leak. My first impressions, that oh so important impression, were not glowing of the state I have heard so much about. Things like: Its sunny. Its warm. Its long. There are so many oranges they even grow on trees. Thankfully, some of these things are true.

I began, strangely, in the capital. Tallahassee, a fun word to say yet hard to spell correctly, was my first introduction to the state and while I didn’t see much of the capital part, I did cruise through the university and along bike lanes, not only in town, but on the highway leading into the city. Yes, that’s not a typo, bike lanes ON A HIGHWAY. Oh my god, was Florida trying to lay some smack down on the rest of the south? Perhaps it was a fluke. I would soon find out having to take a major highway out of town to my next stop in Perry.

A shoulder. A three foot, consistent, no rumble strip, shoulder. The entire way. No changes between counties, no suddenly deciding to no longer have a shoulder. In fact, every once in a while there was a bike symbol on the ground, on the highway. And every street has a sign. Either Florida DOT is ubber competent or so many other states just put the oof in woof. I like to think its both.

Grey skies followed me as I rounded the curve and began my slow descent down the peninsula, cycling on my first Florida rail trail, the Nature Coast trail. Its about 35 miles in length though I only took about 25 of it, partly to Fanning Springs. I stayed with a wonderful warmshower host who clearly loved having cyclists come and stay, and took an au natural dip in the Fanning Springs, um, springs. A bit further down the path at the end and I continued south to make the connection to another rail trail, the Withlacoochee, this one running for 46 miles. The state is riddled with rail trails, and with highways that all have consistent, adequate shoulders for biking. Its hard to stress enough how wonderful, relieving and respectful it is to not have shoulders that are barely 2 feet wide with all of it taken up with a rumble strip in the middle. Of course, Florida highways often suffer from SRS (straight road syndrome), so lets not get carried away.


After spending a night stealth camping in Fort Copper State Park, even though I wanted to pay but there wasn't anyone who wanted to take my money, I finished the last 20 miles of the trail and was spit onto a highway south. Of course, as mentioned above, there was a shoulder, and when the shoulder ends as the road comes into a city, as they always do, there has ALWAYS been a sidewalk, often well maintained, to take its place. Hey, that's a lot of commas.

One week later....

Ahh, conclusions, so quick to jump to them. Yes, it seems Florida tried its best to disprove my earlier statements about it's bikability. With the towns of Lakeland, Okeechobee, and Lake Wales being horrible places to cycle. Disjointed shoulders which make walking trying, and biking difficult due to a lack of shoulders often when sidewalks are present, and of course, the endless traffic. And then, somewhere along highway 60, I finally found the bad shoulder in Florida. A few feet wide with a roaming rumble strip right down the middle. Brought a tear reminding me of Alabama and Mississippi.

Regardless, it was suns out guns out weather, burning my skin for the first time in a long time. I cycled the Nature Coast trail, the Withlacoochee Trail (46 miles), and the horribly signed and under repair Okeechobee trail. Diagonally I went through the long peninsula, passing through lakes and prairies. I spent a night at the Hitchhiker Doom Motel in Yeehaw Junction. Yes, Yeehaw Junction, before making my way to the large freshwater lake at Okeechobee, and two days later surprised my mom at Ihop in Boca Raton. While I still haven't seen the Atlantic Ocean, I more or less consider it done that I have gone, yet again, across the country. This time, from west to east.



Stay tuned for the Phase 3 wrap-up which will hopefully have some good stats, the much anticipated Phase 4 announcement, and some loving photos of Eddy. As always, see all the photos at http://picasaweb.google.com/bingleadventure and keep pedaling.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Georgia: A West side Story

Ahh, Georgia.  My first impression of this state was that it wasn't another state, namely Alabama.  Not to be too hard on Alabama, but biking in Georgia was certainly better.  Even the dogs were easier to yell at.  I spent only a few days in the western part of Georgia, but I done liked what I saw, and so Georgia will be one of the few states that I'll cycle in twice, joining states such as Utah and Wyoming, oh so long ago.  


I spent several cold days in Columbus, enjoying the river walk, going to a local hockey game (the Columbus Cottonmouths gave up 2 shorthanded goals to lose the game 2-0.  Pathetic.), got interviewed by the local tv station about couchsurfing, got treated to the nines by the local bike shop, got hair all over from St. Bernards, and just chilled out.  Chilling out is something I have needed/wanted more and more.  Now don't get me wrong, I love bicycle touring.  I love the adventure of life. I can also admit that I set an very unsustainable pace.  Biking the way I bike, which is hard and long, is great but makes me realize that a one year limit comes into play.  I love to bike and have biked my heart out for the past 9 1/2 months, and I wouldn't change any of it.  But the miles I have done in under a year most do in 2 years, meaning that I'm a bit weary.  Anywho, Georgia.



I more or less followed the Chattahoochee river which forms the boundary between Alabama and Georgia south of Columbus.  My first day out was along the river walk and into Fort Benning which I got lost in for about an hour.  After talking to what appeared to be the same person several times, or perhaps everyone there wears the same camouflage outfit, I finally got myself to a highway.  My day ended at the Providence Canyon State Park, a little mini Arizona almost.  The next day, amidst more clouds, I continued on the lazy highways of Georgia, peach less but still nice.  I eventually found myself at Kolomoki Mounds State Park, which contains several Native mounds similar to those I saw along the Natchez Trace.  I had an amazing stealth camping in one of the group house sites that should have been locked...but wasn't.  


A mixed cloudy/sunny day followed after heavy fog and I found myself cycling along a highway, with a shoulder, so bewildered that I just followed it where ever it did go.  It went to Bainbridge, which was good cause that's where I wanted to go.  The next day I was unceremoniously in Florida.  No state sign welcomed me, nor sun.  Only a list of the many hazards that i might encounter whilst in the state.  My favorites are housekeeping (a silent killer) and confined spaces.  woof.


Still no sun in the sunshine state, but my fingers are crossed that one of these days it'll show it's smiling face.  For now, I'm a panhandling kind of guy, making my way south towards the Atlantic ocean, and the #1 destination of many bicycle tourists in Florida, Boca Raton.  



If you want to send me mail you can send me mail in Boca Raton, just email me for the address.  Till then, enjoy the pictures at picasaweb.google.com/bingleadventure and keep pedaling, at least for a little bit longer.  

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Biking in Bama

There comes a time in many a bicycle tourers life when they most stop, scratch their heads, and wonder why oh why. I found myself in this very situation often over the past week as I cycled through Alabama. In fact, I had a few titles I thought I would go with, like Bad Bama Biking or Sweet Biking Alabama, or Hey, Alabama, Why?? Clearly, confusion mists the airs of cycling in Alabama.

We all know that a Bingler moves forward Bingle by Bingle, but this is usually done with the aid of the free road maps that states give out like kittens. For 19 states, these maps have given me the keys to unlocking the landscape, the beauty, the people, the nooks and crannies of the land. Not in Bama. My 20th state, and I was forced to do something I hadn't done for my entire time on the road, rely 100% on internet directions. Let us explain.

The highways in Alabama are 100% disrespectful of any type of movement that is not a motor vehicle. The drivers themselves were just as courteous as they have been in every other state, with the occasional cowboy. No, the roads were deadly to a cyclist. The highways I normally would take, the secondary highways, in Alabama were 4 or 2 lanes, which is fine, but none had a shoulder. Oh, but sometimes they did. That's right, for maybe a mile or two, in random places, the DOT decided to put a shoulder, often at the start of a highway where I would think about getting on, to lure me into the death trap that awaited. Shame on Alabama DOT for their inconsistent road design and inability to have a useable shoulder on their highways.


So, being forced onto back roads, I found the other side of Bama. The quiet forested hills that I rolled up and down as I made my way eastward, from Tuscaloosa, to Prattville, to Montgomery, to Opelika. These country roads were little trafficked, scenic and full of unleashed dogs. At one point, I think I had all the dogs of an entire country barking for my blood. I even had a pig come after me. I also found another shortcoming of the DOT, their seeming inability to have road signs up indicating the name/number of a road. Often I came to an intersection and had no idea what road it was, if I needed to turn or not. I stopped to check mailboxes for addresses, stopped by every yocal to see just where I was.

At times I enjoyed my biking in Alabama, at times I was frustrated by the state, the dogs, the lack of signs. But, as has been the case, I stayed with warm wonderful people and saw the land and people of a place I never would have if it weren't for my trusty Eddy.

And so, pulling into Columbus, Georgia, I breathe a sigh of relief to be in a state where they have recommended bike routes, and the coastal plain beckons at my feet, along with warmer weather. A shout out to Ride on Bikes, the amazing people there helped me out to with radical kindness. I head south towards Florida, the end of my south and eastern progression. Florida has been on my mind for a long time, with parents and family, and the only way to go is north, it's a transition time, the beginning of the end. Slowly, it seems spring will be coming, and before I know it, I will have been cycling through the land for a year. When I left Vermont, so little did I know. I know just as little, but this life I've lead, the times, moments of elation, the hills and screaming winds, the grueling climbs, the friends come and gone, it's been beyond what I can describe.

For now, I'll enjoy the rivers of Georgia, the rail trails of Florida, the coasts, wild and free, the warmth and sun, and the ever open road ahead.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Tracing the (shoulderless) South

Stereotypes are funny, because sometimes we don’t even know just how they got there in the first place. I suppose I have a stereotype in my head of the “South”. I figured everyone would say “ I do declare” before they went ahead and said something, I thought I would call everyone Governor (for some strange British reason), the girls would all be Belles and lemonade would be sweating on every porch I passed. I'm happy to say, that while this all may exist in the south, it's not the south I saw. I saw bayou, swamps and marshes in Louisiana, the enigma that is New Orleans, the north shore area, the forests of Mississippi, with it's rolling hills, pine forests and endless streams and rivers. So far, the south has been far different than I would have thought.


When I left New Orleans, there is a really large lake that made it hard to get to Mandeville, on the north shore of the lake, where I wanted to go. So, I had to go around, way around, lake Pontchartrain. But it was nice and I got to ride the entirety of the Tammany Trace, the only rail trail in the state. It went for about 30 something miles, from the factory town of Slidell, into Mandeville, north past the Abita Brewery and ending in Covington. I stopped half way in Mandeville to visit an old friend, saw a bald eagle, cypress strewn beach, art in a wine store, poured my own beer from a tap, played some cool games like Pigs and LittleBigPlanet, and made my way, via Hammond, to the state capitol in Baton Rouge.

Baton Rouge turned out to be what other cities have turned out to be: only as good as the host. I stayed with an intrepid warmshower host and THE bicycle advocate in town. I was able to navigate the streets, often with my host, through idyllic residential streets and got a taste of the city I wouldn't have gotten otherwise. “Its not where you are but who you're with that really matters” it's been said. I also had a good friend visit me, as I missed him n New Orleans. Sadly, a cyclist was killed during my stay and another injured by a drunk driver. Too many take driving for granted, forgetting that its a privilege and that it can often be a dangerous means of transportation. Baton Rouge, while slowly improving, was like many other towns I have passed through where the infrastructure gives no respect to the actual people living there. No sidewalks, or broken bad ones if they exist. No thought about how anyone can travel by any mode other than a motor vehicle. Thankfully cities have people like Mark, my warmshower host, fighting the good fight.

Leaving Baton Rouge, I enjoyed the Exxon polluted “scenic” highway out of town before getting on smaller country roads towards Jackson, where I stayed two nights to let some of the rain pass by. My warmshower hosts were amazing hosts, having put people and groups up for over 11 years!! They love it and it shows. And then my time in Louisiana came to an end as I made my way to the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway, in Natchez, Mississippi.


Severe storms and tornadoes were my welcome committee. A night escaping the thunder and lighting, a morning with dark clouds still high in the sky, and I started at milepost 0 of the Natchez Trace Parkway. The parkway extends 444 miles from Natchez, MS to Nashville, TN following more or less the old Natchez Trace route used by natives, traders, Kaintucks, and many others. It was a postal route, a corridor used during the civil war, traders up the Mississippi would float down, sell their goods and boat and walk back along the trace. It's a well worn path, that has seen it's share of history. Now, it's a top bike route thanks to it's low traffic, no trucks, free campgrounds, relative flatness (thankfully there are some hills to keep me interested) and nice scenery all along the trace.

I spent 6 days meandering along the parkway, passing through the heart of the state and the capital, Jackson, winding my way northeast towards Alabama. If it weren't so called winter, I would go all the way to Nashville, but it's darn cold up dar in the foothills. Instead, I left the Trace after staying at a bicycle only campground and headed towards the distant shores of Alabama, where the crimson tide does roll.