By Ben |

[posted to the Wheeled Migration Yahoo Group on March 4, 2005]

Hi, folks! I made it to Savannah a day earlier than I had planned, and I'll be here at least until Sunday.

You last heard from me on Saturday morning, after I'd weathered a wind storm in my tent. The bike-map route brought me around Jacksonville without going into town. I stopped at a sadly quiet little strip mall for lunch and was able to send that message. I rode as far as the town of Callahan and got a hotel room, since there were no campgrounds for another 30 miles -- at least not on the route; since I had only the route map I was unaware of anything more than 10 miles on either side of the route.

A heavy rain started falling overnight. I took my good sweet time leaving the hotel Sunday morning in the hopes that it would let up, but eventually I had to go out and get wet. The rain kept right up all day long, without a single pause. I stopped for lunch right across the border in St. George, Georgia, at a little place that was only accessible via a dirt road that had turned to an inch of mud. The locals assured me that was nothing, that by tomorrow it would be about 3 inches deep, and cars would get stuck in it. But the BBQ sandwich was worth the trouble.

My route took me right past the entrance to the Okeefenokee National Wildlife Area, but I didn't feel like stopping at its visitor center while soaked to the skin. Maybe some other time! The area around the Okeefenokee is all tree farms, miles and miles of pine trees in neat rows. Like Wisconsin, only with palmettos in the understory. There are campgrounds near the town of Folkston, but I didn't think I could find a place to pitch my tent that wasn't marshy, so I asked some convenience-store clerks where I could find a cheap motel. They were so quick to answer that I asked if the place was OK, remembering the motel in La Place, LA where the doorknob had been shot off one of the rooms. This one turned out to be fine. Of course the rain stopped shortly after I unpacked, but that's the way it goes! I stood at the door of my room marveling at the dry parking lot in the moonlight.

Reflections on Florida: I really enjoyed the Florida panhandle, with its forests and beaches and affordable state parks. The main peninsula of the state was a little touristy for my taste. The best advice I can give fellow travelers is to keep your eyes open for brochures and guides and coupon books that may be useful, because you can be sure that no two of them contain the same information, and you're unlikely to find all of them in the same place. For example, there's a great booklet about all the state parks, and there's a free highway map of the state showing all public campgrounds, and there's another booklet listing all the private campgrounds, and there are at least three free books of coupons for hotels. Not even AAA's TourBook has all that information in one place.

Monday was uneventful, except that I missed a turn and found my own route for a while. I think it may have been more direct, less trafficked, and better shouldered than the route I was supposed to take, but of course I can't be sure. Even Robert Frost admitted he couldn't travel both roads, so how can he be so sure that his choice made all the difference? In any case, the same thing happened to me again on Tuesday.

Monday night's stop was Satilla River Vacationland, a spooky-looking place on account of all the Spanish moss hanging like cobwebs from seasonally dead trees, and a legion of apparently uninhabited RVs. Tuesday was windy! I had a fierce headwind most of the morning, but then it turned and pushed me in the afternoon, which was a lot better than the other way around. I saw a tree by the road that I first thought was covered with air plants (like the one I photographed in Austin), but when I got closer I saw they were clumps of white flowers -- the dogwoods are starting to bloom! The red maples are also colorful, with their cranberry-red, winged seeds. I saw my first cotton fields along the roadside; at first I thought someone had disemboweled a sofa in the wind, but no, the cotton had actually grown there on those twiggy plants. I gather these are the remains of last year's harvest.

I passed a feed store where three guys were talking in the parking lot amid drifting clouds of dust blowing from nearby fields. One of them had a beagle who abandoned his owner to run along with me for about three miles. When I stopped for lunch, he waited patiently for me to come out so he could run with me some more. I finally lost him when I got a good downhill slope. I hope he found his way back.

I stopped for the night at a little campground near the town of Odum that has the most ancient pair of owners I've ever seen. They say they've owned the place for 18 years, and from the looks of it it's been going downhill for at least 5. But they gave me a good deal on a site and invited me to sleep in the social hall (the one building that didn't reek of mold) to avoid the predicted frost. I wasn't going to take them up on it, but then I decided that was silly, so took my tent down and moved inside. But when the night got cold, a draft blew in under the door and made the big open room at least as chilly as my tent would have been... maybe more so, because the tent fills with body heat, and its vents are designed to close when they're blown on. I didn't turn on the thermostat because there was a big sign warning DO NOT TOUCH, so I just froze.

When I got into the town of Reidsville, I stopped at a grocery store for some badly needed provisions -- the bike route had led me through such small towns that I hadn't seen a supermarket in days -- and then checked my e-mail at the library. While I was there, I followed a hunch that the next day's prescribed route might be out of my way. Sure enough, it would take me about 20 miles farther north than I wanted to go! Having just gotten back the feeling in my fingers and toes a few hours before, I had no interest in going farther north just yet. The librarian and her daughter helped me choose a more direct route into Savannah. Along the way the librarian made some outrageous generalizations about Black people (who are the majority of Savannah's population), within uncomfortable earshot of a Black patron. And then she said she wasn't prejudiced! I guess it's relative... I'm not prejudiced compared to her, and she's not prejudiced compared to the Imperial Grand Wizard. But he probably doesn't work in a public library.

Right outside of town is a state park with the almost saurian name of Gordia-Alatamaha. At least I imagine local children learning its name alongside ichthiosaurus and diplodocus and iguanodon. It's a very nice little campground, considering how close it is to the highway and the town, and the bathroom was heated like a sauna -- a very welcome change from the night before. I got up bright and early Thursday morning, thanks partly to the cold, but didn't freeze my extremities this time.

I followed US-280 east from Reidsville to Pembroke (rhymes with "cook"), postponing as long as possible the question of whether I would stay the night there or continue to Savannah. I decided to go for it, even though it meant a 65-mile day, because there was a hostel waiting for me, and I fully expected it to be as nice as Pirate Haus. That's really 95% of the reason I rode into Savannah a day early: I wish I'd spent a second night at Pirate Haus, or rather, I wish I'd spent my first night in St. Augustine in comfort and companionship rather than under siege by raccoons.

But not all hostels are as nice as Pirate Haus. The Savannah Hostel turns out to be more like a homeless shelter, which at $22 a night is disappointing. I'll give the owner the benefit of the doubt because he's taking care of a small child and working 56 hours a week and is obviously beyond burnt out, but that's the only slack I can cut him. I could go into detail about what's wrong with the place, but what it needs is fresh management. Anyhow, I bonded with the other five guests (a young couple from Sweden who couldn't find a hotel room, a retired couple from Alaska whose camper is being repaired, and an aspiring cartoonist from Nebraska by way of Taiwan) over unfavorable comparisons to other hostels we've stayed in, and we all have to agree it's the cheapest place to stay in town except for actual homeless shelters or the homes of friends. But enough about that.

The ride into town was pleasant, except that I learned why the bike route had kept me off roads with shoulders wider than 2 feet: wide shoulders in Georgia are textured so that they make noise when cars attempt to drive on them, which means that they rattle the brains out of bicyclists who attempt to ride on them. So I rode in the lane whenever traffic allowed, with one eye glued to my helmet-mounted mirror. That's not a posture conducive to sightseeing, but I did notice when rural Georgia gave way to the fabled Old South charm of Savannah. It's hard to describe, and since I haven't taken any pictures of rural Georgia I won't be able to show you the difference, but the fact that I didn't take any pictures there and I'm bound to take at least a dozen here tells you something.

For one thing, spring is at least a week farther along here. By the end of the weekend there may be leaves on the deciduous trees, and if I'm lucky maybe even blooms on the magnolias. Here's hoping spring is in the air where you are, too! (Or autumn, for Nathan in Australia...) --Ben