So it turns out that I’m really good at putting up and taking down my tent. Unfortunately, as of yet, I’ve still not actually slept in the thing… other than in Mum and Dad’s lounge the week before I left! Accommodation for my night in Gainesville was to be with my first friendly Warm Showers host, David. For those of you who don’t know much about bike touring (oh so that would include me then?!) Warm Showers is the biking equivalent of Couch Surfing. For those of you who don’t know what Couch Surfing is, it’s essentially a way to make an unaffordable trip into a possibility and meet some jolly people along the way! These hopefully jolly people who are also part of the Couch Surfing online community offer up their couches free of charge for the night and an opportunity to swap some stories. Warm Showers is the same thing but for touring cyclists who are, in my experience at least, a very friendly bunch. As a result, imagine how friendly they are in the friendliest of countries, the U S OF A! My lovely host David, not only sorted me out with a bed, shower and breakfast but also did so with about 20 minutes notice! He was a bit of a star really and saved my bacon in Gainsville. Thanks David (sadly I forgot to take a photo. For someone who usually takes too many photos I’ve been really rubbish so far this trip! I’ll turn over a new photo taking leaf pronto!).
The next day took me westwards out of Gainesville which took way longer than I was expecting. Every time I came to a set of traffic lights I was sure they were going to indicate it was time to turn right up 43rd Street but alas, at every set of lights I just had to keep on going. In retrospect, seeing as I had started in 10th Street I should have put 2 and 2 together (or more accurately 10 and 33 together) and been able to figure out exactly how far away I was but I blame my idiocy on Filipe and the beers the evening before! Gawd Filipe, nice one!
Once out of the town the riding was nice again, quiet roads with the few cars there were giving me plenty of space and my target for the day, Ichetucknee Springs State Park seemed fairly achievable. As it turned out, in what was perhaps a reflection of my questionable mental capacity, the kilometres went by slowly and it was nearly 5pm by the time I rocked up at the camping ground, but wow what a camp it was! I set my tent up and headed over to what I thought was going to be a cold shower only to find a lodge with spotless toilets, hot showers and a games room with massive pool tables, arcade games and… the piste de la resitence… an open fire! There was free wifi too! All for 10 bucks! So I was happy bunny indeed sat by the open fire and catching up with emails etc. In fact, before I knew it it was 10pm and I’d had no dinner… a bag of nuts, protein bar and about 10 Hershey’s peanut butter cups would have to do – not the most nutritionally balanced end to the evening!!
The next morning I stopped in at the actual Ichetucknee Springs Park to see, you got it, the springs! They were quite pretty to be honest but I found myself wandering along chatting to some other park goers so didn’t really put much effort into a nice photo. This one of me looking rather gormless will have to do… you get the idea – the water was clear!
So after a nice chat, some bad photos and a departing gift of pepper spray (yeah, watch out muggers, I got the mace!) I got back on the road and headed to my next stop – a motel just of the interstate. Admittedly it was not quite as picturesque as the camping ground and the constant trucks hurling past at 100mph were far from tranquil but the evening was to be a jolly one none the less. Dad happened to be driving back down to Orlando right along the interstate and stopped for the night at the motel too! Despite my best efforts I was yet to loose him since cycling off from the beach and he had kept appearing unexpectedly along my route! This time though dinner and some beer was involved so I wasn’t complaining and we had a nice last, last, this time it’s really the last evening!
I woke up the next day to rain, lots and lots of rain, you know the type where it almost looks like it’s raining up from the ground as well as down from above! As Alan so kindly put it, I was too much of a cissy to get a little bit wet, and I opted instead for a 2nd night in the motel. It was about time I had my first rest day and I was fresh out of socks so some sink washing and a day off were due. You’ll understand of course… the rain had nothing to do with it!
Once the ground had stopped raining and all my clothes were clean (although not dry) it was time to move on. There’s nothing quite like putting on slightly damp pants and trousers and then sitting on a bike all day in a cold wind but needs must and so me and my cold bum headed West. After two nights in a motel it was time to get back on track and back in the tent. Suwannee River State Park was my port of call and after a nice days ride I had only just rocked up and put the kettle on (aka stove) when low and behold another bike tourer rocked up! Peter from Holland joined my camp and we had a lovely evening chatting and trying to make a fire! Very conveniently for me, Peter had already cycled much of what I am due to so I picked his brains on the route and tried to remember as much as possible, particularly when it came to territorial dogs in Louisiana! Eek! Peter has since made it over to the East coast and so has now official cycled across America – well done sir!
Off again the next morning I headed that night to another Warm Showers host. This time, Zef and OOna who are based just east of Monticello. I had been having some issues with my knee along the way and really struggled my way through the last 10km of the day all the time desperately worrying that my fears had materialised and the knee was going to present a serious problem. Upon arriving at Rose Hill Road however I felt like I had reached a safe haven! I had, all to myself, the most beautiful little cabin opposite Zef and OOna’s house with a big bed, lounge, kitchen, bathroom (inc washer/dryer!) and terrace looking over the pond. It was seriously cool! Pushing my bike up the drive I couldn’t quite believe my luck! I should also add that I was starting to feel a little sheepish and understandably you may wonder why seeing as I had not yet said as much as a hello to my hosts! Although I’d quite like to keep it quiet, in the spirit of writing this blog I should be honest and explain. In an attempt to be a polite guest I had stopped off at a small shop earlier that day to pick up, what I had hoped to be, a fresh punnet of strawberries or a bag of grapes. As it happened, the shop shelves were half empty and I quickly realised that finding strawberries or grapes was going to be a long shot indeed. I did my best with what was there and felt ok about it until I found myself greeting possibly the nicest person in America holding nothing but an onion!! Not quite the introduction I had envisioned! “Hello, thanks for putting me up in this incredible cabin… have an onion!”
It turned out that Zef loves onions – well either that or OOna took pity on me and forced him to take one for the team and eat pretty much the whole thing on his pizza! Regardless, they were incredibly interesting people, not cyclists as it happens but sailors who had travelled extensively and even lived for a number of years in the Bahamas. It was lovely chatting to them and I had yet another unforgettable evening. Such a big thanks to Zef and OOna for having me!
Oh and if I’ve learnt one thing so far… you can always count on an onion!!
Gainsville – Rose Hill Road, Monticello: 22nd – 25th Jan 2015
Total so far: 418km