Snohomish, Washington to Saint Augustine, Florida. Google maps says it's 4,488 miles, but I think I can safely claim 4,500 and not be accused of lying. One hundred and fifty-seven days ago, Jen and I said a tearful goodbye to my folks and started an adventure that I will cherish in my heart, and God willing remember, until the day that I die.
Florida is flat, and when adequately motivated a fella and his lovely bride can cover quite a bit of ground in the Sunshine State on a daily basis. After parking our posterior's on a bicycle seat six to ten hours a day for the past five months, the comfort of a bed, a hot shower and a home cooked meal provided all the impetus needed to propel us our last five hundred miles to the East Coast. On Friday the 6th of December, under a warm blue Florida sky, Jenny and I parked our bikes on the boardwalk of Varn Beach in Palm Coast, cracked a cold one and plunged our dirty bodies into the calm cool waters of the Atlantic. We sat in the sand, taking in the expanse of the Ocean and began to wrap our heads around the meaning of this journey as a sinking sun painted the wispy clouds orange against the endless horizon to the east. A few miles away, my friend Jeff's parents welcomed us into their home with open arms. Phil and Penny tried their best to kill me with the size of the steak they served for dinner. In my glutinous celebration, I ate half of Jenny's dinner as well and chewed the bones clean; my Mother will rest easy knowing that I refrained from licking my plate at the table. Both Jen an I slept better than we had in several weeks six feet apart in the same room and I now understand the phenomenon of married couples sleeping in separate beds. I lovingly jest my wife about trading in our queen for two singles at home, but in every joke there lies a seed of truth.
On Sunday we saddled our creaking steeds and pedaled a foggy thirty miles north to Saint Augustine, the oldest European settlement in the continental United States. The sounds and smells of the ocean eerily cut through the hazy gloom as we made our way north at a blistering 5 mph. It felt really nice to know that I could loaf all day and not have to worry about finding a safe place to pitch the tent before dark. Bob and Jane Bond, old friends of our Aunt Sue greeted us with hugs, champagne and a wonderful meal of salmon, rice and salad; foods foreign to my tortilla and peanut butter based diet for much too long of a time.
Yesterday, without the faintest hint of separation anxiety, I wrapped two bikes, a BOB trailer, and over sixty pounds of gear in enough packaging tape to immobilize an elephant and posted it back to Snohomish. I am a little embarrassed about how much shit I hauled across the country and it feels good to be traveling a little lighter. If you are looking for advice on ultralight or ultrafast bicycle touring, you have not come to right place, but I think I can provide some useful bits about keeping your wife reasonably happy on a five-month bike tour.
In many ways, I don't know how to begin to articulate my feelings as this journey draws to a close. Before I left on the this trip, I spent more than my fair share of the time surfing on the interweb reading about the fabled 'magic of the road' that bicycle touring is reputed to summon. It is out here, and I have found it, but not in many of the ways that I expected. I have learned more than a couple valuable lessons about myself, my marriage and this great and unique country in which I reside over the past months. I have gained a much better understanding of the the role that bicycles will play in my own future, and that of our country. I am not the same man who left my Northwest home a few months ago.
As Jen and I leave our wheels behind, I must say that this journey has affirmed my belief that bicycle touring is one of the most amazing and profound modes of travel one can embark upon. You see sights, smell smells, and meet people that you couldn't traveling in the oppressive confines of an automobile; this is a fact. Without reservation I encourage others to find a way to explore their world on two wheels as I will continue to do in my future. At the same time, I must admit to myself and my readers that touring many of the roads in this country really isn't all that safe. Bicycle infrastructure, awareness and acceptance is progressing in many places, but make no mistake, America is a car country and nowhere is that more true than the South. It is best to remember this before rolling into traffic anywhere in this nation as you can be right in a battle with a car, but you're still not going to win the war. The highlight of many day's on this epic tour was the minute I pulled off the road, dismounted my bike for the day and rested easy knowing that the incidence of campers being run over by texting drivers is pretty low. There is simply no way of getting around the fact that you are an extremely vulnerable user who is at a gross disadvantage in the whole car versus bike equation. I don't for a minute regret undertaking this adventure, but I am relieved to have made it here safely. Above all, and more than ever I sincerely believe that communities which embrace the bicycle as part of their culture of transportation are physically, socially, economically and spiritually more vibrant than those that choose not to.
Without a doubt the most profound and enduring sentiment that I will take from this trip is that people of this country are generally pretty good folks. If not indifferent to your presence in their community, people are overwhelmingly polite, generous, helpful and in many cases over-the-top hospitable. It is not the places from this journey that will form my lasting memories, but the people that I met along the way who opened their homes and lives to us like we were family. I am forever grateful and look forward to the day I am able to my pay my gratitude forward.