Day 16: Bike & Bridge

I have discovered the secret to bike & build: bike only every other day (if only). I would say you have no idea how much a day’s rest helps refresh and reset your muscles, but I’m sure literally everyone would expect that.

I woke up convinced that my only option was to do everything excellently to fly beneath the radar of yesterday’s vague threats. The town hall meeting resulted in our waking up at 5 am every morning from here on out, so I was up at 5 and somehow managed to get my bag out at the van within the first several bags. This is from always being in the last few. The only real change I made was to keep my tooth brush and paste in my daypack so I could get my bag out without waiting to do that.

I biked with other Jenna, Meegan, and RTK (Real Third Katie). The morning route through Mississippi was beautiful. Pastoral to wraparound porches to a stretch of Gulf beach lined with elegant homes. Entering Louisiana brought a photo op and roads that seemed to have been built in square patches, both the black asphalt and the long stretch of tan pavement that was more suited for a sidewalk. Amazingly the roads were relatively quiet, which was a wonderful break after so many highways.

At lunch, Maddy told us that a woman had informed her that she’d be going over five bridges to get to New Orleans. I tried to put this out of my mind, as well as hope they’d just be cute little flat bridges with nice bayou views. Several were, but with only a few miles to go, we rounded a corner and the scariest bridge I’ve ever seen came into view. Steep, without a shoulder to shield you from the 70 mph cars that you’re forced to merge into over a grate. I could hardly make it up the slope alone, never mind the constant traffic. My riding group was fantastic, cheering me on and strategizing how we could get up and across this bridge alive. While one truck honked at us (if only that could make me faster– I have the same goal as you, truck), another idled behind us to shield our way. Thank you, guardian angel truck. Also, we saw a man biking up the other way, which is ludicrous because he didn’t have to cross this bridge. It was possibly the hardest thing I have ever done to keep pedaling through the immense pain in my legs into the traffic.

On the other side we faced the wind and rocky roads of the Lower 9th Ward. Riding over the bumps masquerading as streets, we reached our host, a large former school turned volunteer camp. We set up our bunk beds and ate Filipino chicken and rice (the woman serving said all soy sauce varieties besides her favorite taste like water). We then headed out to Frenchmen Street, where I pursued my obnoxiously modest goal of standing outside with liquor and wandered around as a group of thirty through clubs, bars, art fairs, a street brass band, and finally, Bourbon Street.

   
    
   

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Day 15: stumbling into Mississippi 

This day sucked. The morning felt like pedaling through molasses with rocks tied to my legs. Turned out my front brakes were rubbing on my tire, but even after taking care of that it still took an exhorbinant amount of effort to get anywhere. I also got my first flat, which I changed myself except for the final few pushes on the road pump, which had stopped budging the air count upward.

I wasn’t sure if I should, but I called the van. Sarah picked me up and when I tried to get reassurance that what I did was right, instead she told me I was wasting people’s time and gas money and I shouldn’t make a pattern of calling the van because it was unsustainable and she’d have to talk with the main office. I asked what she was implying and we drove silently after that. Also we passed the state line into Mississippi.

At lunch it appeared that everyone felt like defrosted shit, but for some reason I was the only one who cracked. I felt more miserable than I had trudging through each pedal stroke, but I was scared to get back on my bike for fear of having to call the van and its wrath a second time, and scared to stay in the van for fear of getting kicked out.

I reached out to a friend who did B&B a few years ago. She surprised me by relating to all my difficulties, down to the struggle to stay out of trouble for being slow in the mornings. She also said she called the van by the end of every day until the middle of the trip, when she finally started finishing the days on her own two wheels.

The rest of the afternoon was me coming close enough to sleep in the van that I felt groggy. When we got to the host site (a Baptist church) I found a little space for myself in the chapel to be alone. But luckily someone spotted me and started up a casual chat, which made me feel better instantly. Dinner was in the enormous round with a Town Hall meeting during, and then I went to a bar on Jeff Davis street (as in Jefferson, but casual) with a group. Got a whiskey ginger for $3.50. Could have upgraded to Jack Daniels for 50¢ but I don’t have strong feelings about that kind of thing. Closed out the day feeling pretty good, which fit well into my don’t go to bed until I’m at least kind of happy policy.

  

Day 14: CENTURY

I biked 100 MILES. All in one day. And I crossed the state line from Florida into Alabama. I was responsible for this day’s group journal, so I will defer to that account, though it is written in a bit more of a fawning manner than regular readers may have come to expect from me.

Some me specifics:

  • I expected everything to be completely different when I crossed from Florida into Alabama. Nothing was. The state line crosses through a bar called Flora-bama, which Hilary told us moonlights as a church on Sunday morning. This is a fantastically efficient use of space as well as hilarious.
  • IT Band let it be known that it wanted to join the party around mile 30. IT Band, I miss the days when I didn’t even know you existed. I’m sorry I took you for granted.
  •  We took a ferry around mile 60 to get to Dauphin Island. While flipping over my bike to store it for the journey, I figured I could speed up the process to let the people behind me get to theirs faster if I took out my water bottle from its cage. I pulled it out and tossed it to the side of my bike to collect later, from where it promptly rolled through the hole that the ship designer apparently had decided to put there and into the Gulf. It was my weird gummy silicone bottle that wasn’t biking-useful but was just intriguing. The moral of this story is to never try to convenience other people because you might lose your belongings. Also to never trust boat architects.
  • A double hump bridge?! Who is doing these things???!!!!

Day 13: the IT band department 

Yesterday, around the corner from the host, I felt a new pain in what I assumed was a tendon. This morning I got up, got ready, got breakfast, got on my bike for two miles, and got in pain there again. As today was supposed to be a quick 97 miles (hard cap on getting to the host by 5), it didn’t seem to be the day to push through, slow but steady. So I called the van and got on board. 

I’m not actually sure if IT band pain (Melissa’s diagnosis, apparently a common cycling injury) is the type of thing that you push through and are weak if you give into or is a serious condition you should take caution to avoid. Despite having one, I’m not a body expert, probably because mine doesn’t get simple problems frequently enough to give me practice solving them. So I decided to just precautionary principle it, as well as avoid biking 97 miles when my body would have been fatigued even if nothing weird hurt. 

Van life has been pretty noneventful. There are five of us in here but I’m basically on my own because a bike is taking up the row between me and everyone else. Since today was over 90 miles, we set up, waited out, and packed up two lunch stops. From people’s descriptions of today- headwinds, a never ending construction zone that spat dirt on them, a bike path made of bricks, did I mention the 97 miles?- I’m okay sitting this one out. Besides, your body needs rest even if you do moderate exercise and our schedule has us biking for a week straight. I’m just adjusting the schedule to what it should have been in the first place. At Lunch 1, Meegan suggested stretching by crossing my legs and bending the lower one to support the other. Bennett later texted me to say the same thing, so seems like a consensus.  

   

Day 12: everything was beautiful and everything hurt 

Woke up feeling like the median household income for Sopchoppy, FL: low and falling further. I had a bad case of “alone in a crowded room” (just checked on my suspicion that that was a line in Alanis Morissette’s Ironic; it isn’t.) syndrome. When I get sad it’s very obvious as I only have a good poker face when joking. Otherwise when sad I have the face of an onion: transparent and will make you cry. Jack collected me to ride with him and his group of Meegan, Kelp, and David, as well as Delbert, a local B&B fan with a bike seat suspended midair over his wheel for a softer ride. 

The first 20 miles were cutting through headwinds. Delbert tried to shield me from the worst of it by riding ahead of and to the side of me, but there’s only so much windbreaking anyone can do. While trailing close behind another cyclist does help, for the most part, it’s all you. 

The second stretch was much calmer. I bike DJed the entire way, spinning for myself and anyone close/(un?)fortunate enough to hear the tunes and what words I could remember of such cycling classics as Californication by RHCP (middle school favorites are the songs lodged the firmest in my head), an unintentional Pixies medley, Hit Me Baby One More Time (with what I consider very accurate vocal fry), that song about soup and computers (???), and the most significant work of art of this new century, Riding Solo by Jason Derulo. David also led us in the long and expanding call and response chant he’s writing. 

Lunch was exciting because there were vegetables. Also hummus! Then back on the road. I was getting sad again, which made me heavy and slow, so I pulled over and talked with Jack. He was super understanding and I felt like I had a mini exorcism, getting my personality and energy back. JUST IN TIME FOR HILLS. They were rolling and pretty, but they were still hills. 

Literally around the corner from our host, I felt a pain above and to the right of my right knee. I have my pain points, and while they suck I’m for the most part cool with them coming along for the ride, but I’m not interested in inviting in their friends. I got back on my bike for the one minute to the Baptist church, then immediately lay down in a shady spot of grass. 

Shower was in a shower trailer. I was so excited about having a real shower with walls, but it was like ice, so a bit of a trade off. 

I was starting to feel a bit wobbly so dinner couldn’t come a second too soon. It was spaghetti with meat sauce, iceberg salad, garlic bread, and optionally, several pounds of pound cake. The youth pastor gave us a speech on the theme, “go big or go home” that touched on his life story, getting saved, the potentially imminent end of days (“things are looking a little chaotic. I’m just saying…”), and the plot of 3:10 to Yuma. 

This was the first day I found myself unable to walk normally post-ride. Bright side: I now know what exactly I’m lookingforward to in my old age. Although this day was a relatively short 60-something miles, everyone seemed noticeably knocked around and worse for wear. 

Talked with Kevin, who had noticed I didn’t look so hot in the morning and kindly asked what was up, about group dynamics. Then Melissa intercepted my attempt to go to sleep before 9:30 by asking if my group had done our job. All the groups rotated jobs that day without much instruction on our new task, so while Yoouunn Boouhl and I had pondered whether we had an evening portion of our new Trailer Crew responsibilities, we hadn’t come to a conclusion and he drifted off. Some awake people and I did it. Then laundry was back so I hunted for my stuff among the rubble of clothes in the dark. THEN I brushed my teeth, packed up, and went to sleep for 5:30 am wake up. 

Here’s a fun fact: Katie S. rode the entire day on a not-round wheel! 

I didn’t take any photos because my camera was full and I wasn’t in the mood, so please enjoy these hot shots of my ombré, scratched up, black and blue legs. You can’t necessarily see the bug bites, but I can feel them. Also, rumor has it my group stopped to take a photo of Jack and David jumping while wearing only safety triangles, but you didn’t hear it from me. 

    
   If this felt more like my usual long and ungettable reference-heavy writing style to you, that’s because I vanned myself today for my weird tendon pain and I’m writing this from there and not after a full day biking. Turns out fatigue turns me Hemingwayesque. 

Day 11: if making a wrong left turn feels this good, I don’t want to bear right

Started the day out right by promptly keeling onto theright side of my body at a stop sign when I didn’t realize both my feet had clipped in. Got right back up, but kept a few bruises as souvenirs. 

Stopped at a cafe at what turned out to be the vacation town we stayed in, then set out with Katie H and Katie S. 

The morning was uneventful, a straight shot until a fork in the road. Initially we kept going on our path, but Katie S noticed some chalk with a crossed off direction and a left arrow. Our cue sheets said to go on FL 38/US 98 as one line item, so either way seemed right. Katie H said she never looks at chalk anyway, but we turned to follow the instructions. 

The new road was faded, bumpier pavement compared to the previous one, but it ran directly on the coast and was nearly car free, probably because all the cars were on the smooth, black, new road. Most of the houses were on a sort of stilts, for hurricane protection slash boat storage, I assume. We passed one home with goats in the yard. 

Eventually we realized that we were not on the correct road after all. Phone maps revealed that our road looped back up with the right one anyway, and we had only added about 7 miles, so if you’re going to get lost, this was pretty much the best way you could get lost. Also we got to see a huge dead boar in the shoulder of the road, and I wouldn’t miss that for the world. 

We waited for the group we knew was with us on this detour because we had passed them changing a flat, as well as the people responsible for the turn itself, as the bearers of the chalk that had changed our day. 

Once Christina, Jenna, and Bridget caught up to us, we rode as a group of 6 to Port St. Joe, where we ate surprisingly delicious Mexican food and ran into a biker gang of a different sort. One member told us that she had taken a photo of members of our group up ahead in exchange for the promise that they would send her their photo from Monterrey. She made the same arrangement with us, and told us to swing by her bar for a donation. 

We biked to real B&B lunch just for a pause, set up by the beach so van crew had a pretty perfect day waiting for us. The rest of the afternoon was away from the water, with the surrounding rows of pines doing nothing to stop the wind. But we soon entered Flat City, stopping at Dixie Dandy convenience store, the entrance of an Air Force compound, and a KFC to fix Bridget’s loudly exploded tube and Christina’s TWO flats in a row. 

At long last we made it to the Panama City Girls Inc. for hose showers and lasagna. In honor of this, a song: “take me down to Panama City, where the hose is cold and the girls are incorporated… Oh, oh take me home.”

   
    

   

  

  

   

Day 10: Swept up in the rain

Woken up at 6 am, which, if you’ll recall, was sub-5 hours of sleep. NOT HAPPY. Actually, beyond not happy, not coherent or really alive at all. But the weather felt my vengeance, and delayed our start by offering a torrential thunderstorm, which made us hold a town hall meeting in the morning instead of that night.

Each day, two people, designated “sweeps,” ride in the back of the group to keep track of where the group ends and to provide help if needed. Alex and I were sweep for a day of almost constant rain.

The route started off along a bike path cutting through algae bloomed swamp, then continued along a larger state road. And we biked through the Styx. Both in that this was a rural, poor community with breaking down shacks and trailers and bugs and woods, but also that we biked through the river Styx because wow there was so much water on us at all moments. At one point we approached dry, but the sky quickly took care of that.

Quickly the scenery grew wealthier, with golf courses and signs for developments written in Papyrus. We saw lightening at one point, and took cover under an open garage with a boat and swing that overlooked the gulf, albeit with a full gauze of fog covering it.

Lunch was scarfed under the tent the van crew had pitched, then back on the road only to find a hoard of our group waiting out the rain under a covered picnic area outside of a gas station, a corner warmed by a pot of peanuts boiling.

Alex and I joined up with another group and stayed with them at their fast pace until he asked me about my gears, I slowed down to fiddle with them, and no amount of sprinting could catch us back up with them.

Our host was a Catholic community hall, and dinner was fresh-caught shrimp, a salad with spinach and tangerines, edamame, corn, and sausage. I went to sleep as soon as I could (10:20), on my second pull-out couch in a row, brought to me by the grace of providence.

 

Day 9: Fit but you know it

Build Day 2. Wakeup remained at 6 am. The build site was smaller than our first, a few ranch homes that blended in well with the neighborhood.

Before I could find myself something to do, a staff member called me over to use power tools. Oli and I walked over to Mr. Ed, a 90-year-old former physics professor who ran “before the running revolution,” in the ’60s when he was 50. As he was explaining everything, I had the realization that I was falling asleep standing up and recalled the fine print in Benadryl commercials to not operate power tools while drowsy. When he said to me, “everyone wants to operate the jigsaw with the blade pointed down, but you get more power if you use it pointed up,” I took that and my vision of my split jugular as my cue to leave.

I retreated to yardwork, where the risks were minimal and the sun was hidden by the shadow of the roof. Katie S., Kayla, and I moved dirt around, raked, and laid down squares of grass until 3, leaving time.

I had heard rumors of a shower a walk away, so I made that pilgrimage with a group, discovering that it was 2 miles away and that they didn’t know about our arrangements and so charged us for normal pool and shower use. We swam a bit, then showered and returned to Bicycle House, where the executive director of an affordable housing organizations spoke to us. Then Scot, Bicycle House’s founder, started fitting people’s bikes to them. I hung around waiting for my turn and hoping that if I watched long enough I’d learn something. Since I’m not an aggressive person when it comes to lines, I ended up waiting for approximately ever to get to my bike. Scot moved the seat forward and up a bit and suggested I buy a shorter stem to bring my handlebars closer, but for my weird back pinch thing going on only said I should get people to give me sports massages, though unclear how I’m supposed to convince people to do that.

Finally I got to go to sleep. It was after 1. Woke up in the middle of the night with a cat curled above my head. Tried getting it away, but the most it was willing to compromise was squishing itself in between me and Kayla.

Day 8: the *%#$&@ hills of greater Tallahassee 

Did you know that Florida had hills? I just learned this fact by biking over all of them.

This day was weird. So weird. After a flat first five miles, the hills kicked in and we were on a rollercoaster with barely any breaks, just ups and downs. Sure, there are those who scoffed, “you call those hills?” but to answer that, YES yes I call those hills oh god. 

The morning started out really hard for me, and most of my group dropped my slow ass. Meegan kindly stuck with me, moderating her pace and telling me how your mind is ready to quit before your body truly needs to. She led, and I counted down from ten to get through the hills, figuring each one and its attendant pain were finite. But then I reached six counts of ten

Lunch was the well-suggested mix of shredded iceberg, croutons, and ranch. After using a bathroom with the Ten Commandments painted on the walls and the Smurfs on the outside, it was back to the road and its hills. 

The first hill felt like death gone nearly vertical. “I need this road to calm down topographically,” I thought and perhaps grumbled to everyone.

I realized I faced a choice: get in the van or continue. Since I didn’t want the van, my decision tree branched further: keep chugging along like the little engine who hated life, or push forward and gain every inch of momentum I could and finish. these. hills. 

I went to a real deep self talk place, much of it out loud, and sped the hell up. I don’t know how I did this. It must have looked insane to everyone else, me who crawled through the morning suddenly crushing the hills like a maniac. But this was the only way I could see getting these hills done; slowing down or shifting to a lower gear just made it harder as it reduced my momentum and force from each stroke. I channeled my inner Marshawn Lynch and segued into beast mode, chanting Lakutis along the way. Like the movie Breaking Away, I broke away and led the pack through the rainstorm that shattered the heat. I had hit the wall, bounced off it, and come back as the Kool-aid man. 

But I couldn’t stay in an adrenaline-soaked fugue state forever. I reached a sudden precision of fatigue, and unsafely veered off the road, unable to bike another downstroke. Meegan and Sarah followed and we found that I couldn’t quite breathe without hyperventilating or keep my eyes open. Meegan talked me through slowing my breath and opening my eyes. Sarah first thought I was having a panic attack, then we talked through how much water I had drank throughout the day and apparently “enough” means something different to everyone! I had eaten and drank more than the day before, but since that baseline was lower than other people’s, that probably wasn’t enough. 

Right as we were dealing with getting me right, lightening struck. We took shelter in the house office next to us. Then Meegan heard from a trucker that a cyclist had been hit. Sarah bolted onto her bike to reach the person while Meegan and I headed into the house for shelter with the woman inside, Martha. As I sucked down all the water, Gatorade, and Powerade she pushed on me, Meegan got to work, making the best of a rainstorm/dehydration situation to Donation Magic (DM) wings from a local restaurant Martha suggested she call. 

We heard through the group text that the accident was minor. I started to recouperate and we resolved to head out again. But just as we were saddling up, Sarah J. arrived with Sarah W.’s dad in his police jeep to take me the rest of the way. I had nothing to prove but safety, so I went with him. The 7 miles we drove felt long, and I started to feel woozy again. 

Our host is a nonprofit that provides bicycles to people who need transportation, but it’s also kind of one guy, a warehouse, piles of bikes and their parts, and a few dogs and a cat. 

I sat around feeling strung out and tingly. Showered in an outdoor tub with Katie S. and felt an urge to cry that seemed analogous to the itch to sneeze. Cried a bit and talked with Jack. Then Sarah told me I had been biking pretty unsafely for me and the group by pushing myself to breaking points and not signaling enough. There’s so much to adjust to– this level of exercise, the hours, lack of sleep, new food, the heat, the pace, the group, day in and day out of pushing myself past what I’ve ever done before– that despite trying hard in every direction, stuff is falling by the wayside. I felt sad because here’s another thing I didn’t even realize I could mess up that I am, but I know I need to be safer and am trying every day to get better in everything, signaling included. Today I just warped into survival mode, where the only thing that mattered was getting myself through the hills because it wasn’t guaranteed, so going to double down on communicating with other riders tomorrow in flat land world. 

Sat around for a long time talking with Scot, the guy who runs the nonprofit. He’s 50 and used to race and coach professionally. He asked if my name were Frank because I’m Frank I guess, which I took as a sign that I had regained energy because tired me has a very minimal personality. 

Eventual Roy was ready to head out to celebrate his birthday, so walked with him and the other stragglers to a bar. I decided this summer to drink beer because I’m doing all this exercise and it seems appropriate, so I got a dark, coffee-like one. Christina asked us if we’d rather find the love of our lives and live with them isolated in a plantation, cut off from the outside world besides family visits OR live normally but know that you’d never find love. I mostly wanted to know how nice the plantation was and how the finances were gonna work if I were cut off from other people. 

After singing to Roy at midnight (joining the 25 crew, which is surprisingly a plurality if not majority), walked back with Christina and Rob. 

Scot saw me looking at the couch appraisingly and asked if I wanted to sleep on it. I told him that was my dream in life (I have been updating my life goals on a daily basis) and he told me it opened and gave me a sheet and pillow. I group texted the people still at the bar that they could bed buddy with me, but apparently when they got back a cat had staked out the spot. 

   
 
   
    
 

Day 7: JoHo and Jenna’s big rain adventure 

Jack instated Twisty Tuesdays, in which every Tuesday we’ll assemble riding groups by picking numbers out of a bag and finding your match. I got 5, as did JoHo. JoHo did B&B P2S in 2013, and got strong. He’s weighed down his bike with five panniers because without them he’d be so fast it would be painful for him to keep pace with normal human people. Even with the bags, he has to adjust his cadence uncomfortably to not jet past everyone else. So that was an equal pairing! 

We crushed the day at 25 mph the whole way (we did not). JoHo graciously set a nice pace for me and let me lead at my pace as well. The roads were pretty nice, wide and open and bordered by farms and fields, and I concentrated on sprinting up the hills to make next week easy. Then the rain started up. 

It felt pretty great to break the heat, plus I just love rain and enjoy when things get over the top, unfixably grimy and busted– give me a color run, downpour, foam party, just make all my clothing unsalvageable and I’m having fun. Eventually we heard thunder so found cover in a business for a few minutes. Then we decided, eh and got back on the road. Got sprayed by the muddy water coming up from JoHo’s back wheel. We talked life and politics. 

Lunch was on the pavement in front of a Baptist church, then rode out again with JoHo, Sarah J., and Katie H. for a sunny ride. Got super tired around mile 65, but took a break and snack and felt 100% better. Chatted with Sarah about love languages and paying attention to people. Rolled into the campground soaked for dinner and bed in cabins with beds. Been sitting on this couch with Kevin for hours with people drifting in and out. Very tired.