[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on February 26, 2005]
I know it's only been a few days since I last wrote, but as I write this I don't know when I'll next be online, so I figured I should take the opportunity.
I stayed up late Wednesday night talking with fellow travelers in the hostel: a young woman from Ireland headed west and a young couple from England headed east via Greyhound. All three have been to the US before but have never been to the midwest; they go back and forth between the coasts through the South because there are more interesting stops that way... I guess they don't think there's much of anything between Minneapolis and Portland. Much as I'd like to promote the northern states, I've ridden that stretch by Greyhound myself, so I'm not sure I can. I had a nice complementary breakfast of pirate pancakes and coffee and was on my way. As I was loading the trailer, I met a former manager of the hostel who now lives in an apartment in the same building because she likes the stream of travelers.
I should mention that the other bike tourist I met at Rainbow Springs State Park (just before Ocala) lent me his Adventure Cycling map showing a bike route all they way from Ormond Beach, FL to Savannah, Georgia. I've resolved to stick to this route and see how I like it.
I've said before that pedaling the BikeE uses different muscles than riding an upright bike or climbing stairs, which was a major selling point when I had to climb three flights after each ride. The down side is that after climbing the 14-story lighthouse Wednesday, my calves were intensely sore for days! The up side is that that soreness didn't interfere at all with my bicycling.
State Highway A1A north of St. Augustine looks a lot like the Gulf coast in the Florida panhandle: lots of vacation homes and condos, and lots of wind-pruned vegetation. In fact the trees and bushes are so severely pruned by the wind that they grow together into an impenetrable thicket which may look nice in the green season, but right now it's olive drab and looks like a wildfire waiting to happen. The campground that charges $40 for a tent site is right in the middle of this briar patch! I don't see the appeal.
Jacksonville Beach is a neat little town. It's full of the surf shops and sports bars you'd expect to see in a coastal town near a big city, but every business seems to have a bike rack, and every rack I saw had bikes parked at it. I don't know how many of the tourists bicycle, but the employees sure do! There were scattered showers all day -- very scattered. I managed to be under cover every time one passed by, and I was able to restrain myself from going out until the rain had stopped, so I didn't get wet even once.
I had my choice of two city campgrounds, one on either side of a ferry. (The city of Jacksonville is geographically enormous because it annexed the entire county in 1967, so what used to be county parks are now city parks even though they're far from town.) I chose the farther one -- Huguenot Memorial -- and got a great deal on a campsite: $5.75. Of course it's right across the river from a Navy air base hosting a huge aircraft carrier, but the helicopters and jets stopped flying over sometime between 10 and 11 PM, and quiet descended. That's when the rain started. It was just a light rain, but it had a strong and gusty wind behind it.
When it hadn't stopped by 9 AM, I called the camp office and had them sign me up for another night - no point traveling in this weather when I could stay put for just $5.75. I had plenty of food, and my gear was dry inside the tent. It didn't stay that way. By noon the tent was taking on water above and below, the top had blown off my green bin allowing the contents to marinate, and my new keyboard had started malfunctioning just like the old one. I shouldn't have gotten it out in wet conditions, but after I finished my only book I thought I'd get some work done. The amount of work I got done pays for half the price of the keyboard, so I didn't even break even with that purchase.
The storm was officially called a nor'easter on the weather-band radio. The rain stopped by Friday evening, but the wind kept right on blowing at 15-25 mph, flapping the tent fabric so hard I had to wear earplugs. But it settled down by this morning (Saturday), and I was able to pack the gear -- mostly dry! -- without losing anything to the wind. I'm really impressed at how my tent held up! A neighboring Kmart-special tent crumpled up like a dead spider.