Tales of Crocs and Gators

I apparently read a lot! A fair chunk of my free time on this trip has been dedicated to reading one book or another, from collections of Taoist lessons to sprawling fantasy series. Taylor can attest to me frequent stops to Barnes and Noble.

Our story leaves off again just so, with me reading, and Taylor video editing. Our recent return from a tempo run around campus left us ready for some lo-fi activity. We spent our last evening in Gabbi’s room on the 5th floor of a residency building at Jacksonville U. PB+J ingredients remained scattered on surfaces throughout the room (in jars and bags, though). Before going off to bed, we decided the following day would require an early start, as we had 220 miles to do in 2 days.

“6:00 will do it,” we agreed.

The next morning, Taylor and I woke up around the same time. However, this was not a function of our alarm clocks being set at 6. Rather, it seemed that our bodies overrode our decision and woke us instead at 7:20. No worries, but we still rushed a bit out the door.

We said our goodbyes to Gabbi and her friends the previous night, so our path was down the elevator and out into the (surprisingly) cold temp of early morning Jacksonville.

Down University drive and over the bridge we went, eventually finding our way to a Winn Dixie to stop for breakfast, as a banana and apple were not enough for us earlier. As I was entering, I told Taylor I would vie for something small and hot, but leave room so I could eat some of the grocery purchases I had for this purpose.

Now, the food I bought may have been one of the worst buys I have ever made. I went for fried chicken wings (for breakfast, you say? Yeah, I don’t know…). Anyway, I filled a small container and made my way to the register, failing to notice in my morning haze that $4.99/Lb is kind of expensive. The cashier told me I owed her $17. I paid, and soon after, my wallet gave me a pained look and dove off onto the concrete hundreds of centimeters down.

Taylor proceeded to make some great deals, and came out with a full set of cereal gear for 2 dollars less than what I paid for some fried chicken…

We briefly chatted with a hitchhiker from Oregon, and I directed him to I-10. He had enviable dreadlocks.

Once we got on track, our trails left the consumer valley and entered the mansion strewn riverside of north central Florida. House after monstrous house whizzed by on our right, before we eventually crossed a bridge to the other side, and the morning became day.

The temperature started to rise and surpass any we had seen since the summer of 2011. We made a few stops for food and cold drinks. Our arms were evidence that we really were not in New England anymore, as they had some serious lobster-meets-a-puerto-rican color to them. We were on our way well, until my stomach required filling once more. We had just entered the fairly massive Ocala National Park, and we pulled off to a plaza made for the convenience of campers right next door. We got some ice cream and food. I pulled out my book once again (this holds for pretty much every stop we made). We met some nice people there at Salty’s Country Store, and we noted the prescribed forest fires we passed on the way.

Taylor and I made our way back on the road, and headed for a place to camp as the sun went down. We took our headphones out and enjoyed the silence of an empty road in the park. You sometimes don’t realize how loud our lifestyle is, until leaving it for even a small amount of time. One of the serious contributors to the noise on our trip is the unavoidable semi truck. On Route 19, we could hear them coming from 2 miles away, and as we camped, it sounded like we were directly under LAX airport (when in fact, we were over 100 feet from the semi-filled roadway in question).

Time for a nap

Tenting became the usual puzzle to solve, as I spoke with Taylor about where we would best fit. We eventually came upon a small maintenance road with an off shooting abandoned path that was overgrown with palmettos and other brush. It should be noted that our campsite was not far at all from Lake George, the 2nd largest lake in Florida, known for it’s remarkably high saline level, allowing myriad salt water creatures, such as blue crabs, to sustain themselves, despite it’s classification as a freshwater lake. We cleared 2 nearly tent sized spaces one next to the other, and crashed at 8:00, weary from a 90 or so mile day.

The alarms on our phones rang out in the dark at 5:00 AM. The two of us rustled and bustled and plowed our bikes through the deep sand to route 19 to start the new day with some serious peddling. We didn’t know for sure, but our prediction was about 120 or so miles to Taylor’s grandparents’ house.

We knocked down 19 before Mcdonald’s for breakfast (I know, I know..) and continued onward at a vigorous pace. Soon again, the big man cranked the thermostat to 82 degrees F, and the two of us melted. our spirits were kept cool, however, as we entered acres upon acres of orange groves! The trees were quite a sight, framed and reflected by all the lakes this area of Florida held.

We just had to stop for a picture with the oranges, and later found out we were not just innocently borrowing the two oranges we took, but we were facing a serious fine: $10,000. That’s right, Taylor and I are some serious street hardened criminals.

Wanted

So we were well aware of the oranges here, but what we did not count on was the hilliness of central Florida. Our fortitude was tested on the whetstone against the heat and wind, high mileage, AND the hills we did not count on. And it was also tested against something else we did not count on: big rusty nails.

As I headed down a quick hill in search of route 27, listening to some Schubert, I heard a loud screaming noise and turned to find Taylor stopped behind me. I braked, dismounted, and was dismayed to find that Taylor’s bike faced some intense damages. The rear fender was crumpled like a piece of old homework paper, and the tire was as flat as Coastal Carolina. We hastily removed the wheel to find a 4 inch rusted iron nail piercing Taylor’s tire in at the top and right out the side. We set to work, Taylor on the tire and myself on the crumpled fender. I took a screw out, and the whole fender seemingly exploded back into shape, and my hands were thankful to be out of the way, as I am sure contact with that action may have lacerated them seriously. Taylor was thankful to be carrying the spare tire, and it came in handy sooner than we had hoped. not 10 minutes later, everything was fixed up, and we were on our way.

Our bad luck seemed to spare us a few minutes later, and we stumbled upon a bike shop that was able to repair Taylor’s warped front wheel! We picked up some cool socks, too.

The day continued, and I withered. The heat started to really get to me, and I found myself hurting bad as we went up and down the relentless hills. I spotted a sign that told me Golden Corral was 4 miles away, and I told Taylor and we set ourselves for it. It was far, but when there is a buffet, it is worth the money for us. We eat like monsters.

At last! we arrived and pulled off near the doorway to have a waiting couple tell us that we were indeed in the highest and hilliest part of florida (not saying much in relativity, but still), and that the heat was uncommon even here. Did I mention we were only a handful of miles from DIsney World at the time?!

So we ate plate upon plate of stuff, and went on our way filled, cool, and happy. But the day had no intentions of letting us off easy. 10 more miles down the road, as we pulled off from a gas station to fill our bottles with ice, I found my back tire deflated while I was gone. So we set down and I quickly threw in a replacement tube. off we went!

Only to be stopped again. The tire went flat once more! This time, I borrowed a tube from Taylor, and replaced it again. It should be noted that I thoroughly checked the inner wall of the tire and the wheel thoroughly for possible explanations of the flats. I came to finding nothing once again. And the tire went flat once again. I just filled it back up and we got another 10 miles before I became fed up. We were well within shooting range of Taylor’s grandparents, and we vied to have his Grandpa come pick us up where we stood. Funny how we can get 1700 miles with no support for riding, but upon being near some relatives, my bike conveniently becomes unrideable.

Our luck headed in the right direction, though. We saw our care packages waiting on the table in the screen house. Dinner was ready, and we were glad to join Grandma and Grandpa for baked ziti. Yum!

Then we got to open our care packages, and we want to extend our thanks to everyone who helped out and sent some stuff. Taylor particularly appreciated the letters from his immediate family, and I appreciated my mom’s home made chex mix.

What I was wildly appreciative of was the stuff supplied by my cousin, Sarah. She bestowed upon us some serious goods that are bound to keep us healthy and strong. Not only food, she supplied some wise words that I will look fondly upon as we go our way, and even after we are finished, I am sure. Thank you so much, Cuz!

Her creative and empathetic intuition led her to put inspiring words on each nutrition bar so we got our fill in not just our stomachs. Today’s wise words:

If you have great challenges, have greater faith

-Leinani Kamaka

So once all the christmas-like activities finished, Taylor and I went right back to our reading and video editing.

Once we woke up, Taylor’s grandma had an excellent waffle breakfast ready, complete with strawberries and whipped cream. Needless to say, we were satisfied.

Upon completion of the meal, we took the golf cart down to the lake side to see some wildlife. We had been thinking about gators all day, and thought we might see some. Unfortunately, we had no luck with the gators, but we did see a turtle enjoying the sun. Once Taylor’s grandpa got back from volunteering at the hospital, we headed out to the bike shop. We stopped at Subway and kept talking about Gatorland, the good places to see alligators in Florida, and other fun stuff. Taylor and I also saw signs of cute girls… Proving just as tough a find for us as alligators.

Something else that has been tough to find are Taylor’s sunglasses. He seems to have lost them upon arriving here, and we haven’t found them yet. I even bet him a dollar that I could find them in 5 minutes, and I failed. This is my reminder that I owe him that dollar.

So we saw some more anoles, had some freeze pops, had lots of dinner, and we are enjoying some more time with the grandparents and Jaunita the cat out in the screen house.

Until next time,

-Steve

3 thoughts on “Tales of Crocs and Gators

  1. For being constantly on the road, you guys eat pretty well. (: And you make food sound so good, it makes me hungry when I read these!! I’m so jealous you’re in Florida now, it’s cold and rainy here. But I’m sort of happy there is no snow. At least when you return, it will be warmer here. Happy trails guys!

  2. Yay for finally having another journal entry from Steve!! No offense Taylor, I love, love your writing….I just enjoy reading my “first” sons words too!! Such adventures for you both.

    PS… Hey, (after watching your bike accident video) maybe the next time you are trying to change a tire you could get off the road a little so one of those tractor trailer trucks don’t squash you like a bug! I like you big bugs to make it back in one piece : ) xoxo
    Love, Mom K

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