Reader, we blogged for you when we woke up in Alabama, and because of that we left late, too. It wasn’t far to Florida, though, and we were taking our cliche state-line photos in no time.
As luck would have it, just as we were standing there wishing we had a way to take a photo of both of us, a man driving an enormous white pick-up turned around on the road and stopped near us on the shoulder.
“You want a photo of both of you?”
“Yeah, we want exactly what you just predicted, complete stranger.”
He was in his truck then gone as quickly as he had shown up, and we went back to riding. This seemed like a good showing from Florida already, but we had just arrived.
A few hours later we rolled into Pensacola, still without a place to stay. Couch surfing had so far turned up nothing so we started considering alternatives. However our attention quickly changed from where to stay that night to the crowd of people walking around downtown and a big bus with tinted windows that was parked nearby. Something was going down, but we didn’t know what that something was. A lady with a headset answered the question.
“Daniel Tosh is performing at the Seanger theater tonight.”
Oh he is, is he?
Our plans changed from looking for a place we could sleep to finding a way into the performance. Forty five minutes of sleuthing later and the conclusive information we had found was this: The shows had sold out within a few days of sales opening, there were no cancelled orders or open seats, and the only remaining ticket on craigslist was priced at twelve hundred dollars, roughly the cost of a good touring bicycle.
We took a moment then admitted to ourselves the dead-end this had obviously become. We asked a local woman outside the theater about bars with drink specials. The cheaper of the options, she told us, was also closer; a no-brainer, really.
With a pool table in the back of the bar and nobody to talk to, we grabbed some change from our bags and killed time. Our plans were morphing as we shot and talked alone. The decision was that we were going to try to get extroverted and meet new people that might have something in the way of a place to sleep.
Three games of pool and two comedy shows later, we hadn’t been able to get anyone in the crowd of strangers to talk to us more than a few sentences. We were left with the option of staying or going and we decided going was the cheapest and most productive.
Sleeping on the gulf sounded like the right kind of finish to a day like the one we had been having. We found a stretch of land on an isthmus South of Pensacola that looked good on a map. It was tough to know we hadn’t accomplished any of the goals we wanted to achieve for the night, but the moonlight reflecting on the water as we crossed the bridge out of town made it feel acceptable to be unwanted. We found a stretch of beach that felt right and didn’t seem like it would bring us a police visit. A late night swim and a few photos later, we lay down on a couple of beach chairs and slept out under a growing number of stars.
We both woke up less than fully rested, and ready to leave Pensacola. We decided to ride the hundred miles of coast line it would take to get to Panama City in hopes we could find somewhere indoors to sleep that night. Again, we went without any contacts and we rode the whole way without a place to sleep at the end of the day
Around nightfall, we made it into Panama City and stopped to eat at a Chinese buffet. While there, we grew comfortable enough with the owner and, and possibly desperate enough, to ask if she would be willing to let us camp behind her restaurant for the night. We found out she wasn’t comfortable and that they were also closing soon. Again, we were riding into a darkened town with no place in particular to go.
Not long after setting out we found ourselves in a neighborhood with little activity and an open cemetery. Though we had heard of other cycle tourists sleeping in graveyards, we hadn’t been put in the position where it was the most accessible option. This time it was, and we quietly laid our tarp out in a clearing away from the clusters of tombstones. Strange dreams followed, but our rest was undisturbed through morning.
The nights outside hadn’t been entirely unappealing, but we hadn’t showered after sweating for two days and started to crave a place to sleep without fear of zombies or police. We left Panama City a little more tired than the previous day. A few miles out of town, as we were passing an air force base, my front tire went flat. It’s never a welcome thing, but tubes are routine now (not bragging). Routine or not, we had another two flats on the same wheel before Andrew finally found the tiny piece of glass that was ruining our morning.
It didn’t seem worthwhile to ride the ten miles we had already come two more times so we kept moving forward. Our hope was that in one of the little beach communities we were set to ride through, we would find a bike shop. We found no such thing all day. We were surprised by the stores that did carry bicycle tubes, but the size we needed was the only variety none of them had.
The prospect of being stranded, on top of the previous two nights of sleep was compounding as we considered the rest of Florida possibly a thousand miles more of what we had been through so far. After a while we found ourselves stopping just because we had little motivation to be on our bikes. The scenery was beautiful, but the days didn’t feel as though they would ever even out in our favor.
After one of the stops, we brought back a practice we had started in Texas. We listed three things we were thankful for that day. It turned out we both had more than three things. The brief reflection didn’t make it easier to be on the bike, but it put any complaints in perspective for the remainder of the day.
The last two towns we could make it through for that day were Apalachicola and Eastpoint. The former was eventful when we met a man named Albert who gave us a vague history of himself and his hometown, which he had never strayed far from his entire life.
After the chance encounter we went to Eastpoint to see if the cycle shop google told us about was real. It was not, but there was a lodge where it was supposed to be and, after talking to the innkeeper, we were told that her husband would be back soon and we could talk to him about our predicament.
When he arrived, he heard our situation and offered a place on the property where we could camp for the night without charge. He said the building supply store in town had bicycle tubes, but they wouldn’t be open until morning. We were more than content to set our tent right near the water and watch the sunset, but the deal was sweetened when we were offered a shower with all the amenities needed to wash off a few days worth of sweat. The balance seemed to be shifting toward optimism by the time we settled in to read and pass out.
Our morning was cheap, delicious breakfast followed by the familiar scenario of bike tubes that mean nothing to us. There was one small town in our future called Perry that was going to have a wal-mart, but it was a hundred miles away from Eastpoint. With all the desperation we had built up in the last few days, we decided that because we felt physically up for it, we might as well do it and try to get out of the sticks. For eight hours we rode head first into winds faster than we often go with no obstacles. Our strong cycling along with our bikes holding up made for a good day.
About halfway through the day we stopped at a spring-fed river and watched a manatee swim out from under the bridge.
About three-quarters of the way through we stopped at the last gas station for the next twenty miles and ate our first boiled peanuts. We felt like we were getting what we needed of Florida, but not much more. Our conversation while we sat and ate the snack left us relaxed and ready to finish the last section of our ride before all the problems we had accumulated were made into distant memories.
Our host for the night, Richard, was surprised to meet his first couch surfers. He welcomed us in a fashion we felt we had left behind in Alabama. We ate pizza and talked about traveling. He told us about the places he had been and his distaste for the general redneck attitude he felt dominated in the area.
The common ground we found with him had become unusual during our time on the panhandle and was all the more welcome for that fact. The night ended when neither Andrew nor I could stay awake for the movie we had chosen to watch with our host. Eventually, we stood from our comfortable chairs and walked through his quiet house to our separate bedrooms. Florida had taken a lot out of us, but now we were finally getting it all back.