The Beer Bottle Whizzed Past My Head As It Passed Through My Front Bicycle Wheel

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Atlantic Coast Bicycle Trip

Outside Jacksonville, Florida

May 14, 1977

The ride from Mt. Pleasant to Florida was in a slow, temperamental car. After thirty-four hours of driving, Tom and I arrived in Lake City, Florida. I met Tom after he read the note I left on the ride board at school. My note read: “Hi. I need a ride to Florida at end of the semester. Will share gas.” I got a phone call a couple weeks before the end of the semester and after that my Atlantic Coast bicycle trip was really on. The ride down came to an end at a KOA campground in Lake City, Florida. After Tom had already paid the fee, the guy wanted an additional $5. from me. I told KOA, “No thanks,” and took my bike and sleeping bag over to where the mowed grass of a nearby Exxon gas station met the wide open field, and there I laid out my sleeping bag and called it a day—a long one. In the morning, I started bicycling north.

It was a beautiful morning that turned hot in the afternoon. I took every precaution to keep from getting sun burnt, but that wasn’t enough, so here I am drinking this cold root beer under a shade tree, writing in my journal, wondering just how burnt am I. No sense worrying about it. I’ll find out in due time.

“Hi journal,” I guess were back together again. Which book is this anyway? I’m free again; biking down some road, my only destination some other road, until I put the entire Atlantic Coast behind me. Not only am I back on the highway, I’m back on the highway as a bicycling Castalian–a seven-year dream come true! CMU finally made me a full time custodian. Well, maybe not a custodian, but at least I’m accumulating seniority (one year already) so eventually I will become a custodian. I was hired into the least desirable job on campus, washing pots and pans. I don’t mind. Working in the kitchen lets me take summers off, and if it weren’t for that perk I wouldn’t be here now.

As a Castalian, life was not all work. For the first time (because I had the time), I was attending music performances, lectures, sitting in on classes, engaging people in “good conversations,” and, thanks to Mike and Val, even partaking in some “leftist activities.” At their courthouse wedding, I was their best man (the only man) and after the wedding the three of us moved out of our trailer and into an apartment. Things were really looking up. I did what I wanted when I wanted, and got paid for it too—what a luxury! Castalia wasn’t for everybody, but that’s okay. It made me happy. I chose it, and I will continue to choose it. I was in Florida because of it, and I will be returning to Michigan because of it. I had spent so much of my past anticipating this future and anything less than jubilation right now would be unimaginable. Things couldn’t get any better! It was sixteen miles to Jacksonville, and here I come.

7:15 p.m., and here I am, five miles farther down the road, and lucky to be in one piece. I guess a paragraph back I should have looked a little farther into the future because a little foreknowledge would have come in real handy. I probably would have avoided the thrown beer bottle that just missed my head as it damaged my front bicycle wheel. My last three hours were spent repairing two broken spokes and drinking beer from the six-pack I bought. That joint a curious stranger shared with me wasn’t bad either. I feel somewhat better now, but I’m still not over my disgust concerning the beer bottle incident. At least I found this picnic area to do my repairs in. I’m going to camp here tonight. Shit! I forgot what I was going to say. After that joint and the three beers, I’m not surprised. Oh well, I at least want to mention the family that just left the picnic table closest to me. I watched the little boy snag the biggest bass I’ve ever seen—a six-pounder or better. The kid caught it with a hook through the dorsal fin and pulled it to shore. He was so excited, and so were his parents. As I write this there are some other people who are taking their place at the picnic table. I hope they don’t come over. I’m going to pee.

May 16

Oh, by the way, I remembered what I forgot last night. It was that I started smoking again. One night’s sleep, and morning cigarette mouth was enough to put the kibosh to that bad habit. I threw away the half-a-pack of cigarettes that I still had in my shirt pocket. Unfortunately, when I looked down at my red, raw, skin I realized that I didn’t put enough lotion on my body yesterday. No wonder last night it felt like I was sleeping on a bed of hot nails. I decided not to go anywhere, at least not anywhere far. I pointed my bike toward the ocean and twelve miles later (and $3.65 poorer) I entered a Florida State Park.

I’m presently sitting on a shaded picnic table, camped just down from Steve. He’s also in the middle of the first week of his two-week bicycle trip. He’s good company.

When My Pet 200 lb Boa Constrictor Gets Mad I Stay Away-Said My Friend

Georgia Bottomland Swimming Hole

May 17

Yesterday, Darryl, Patty, Frank and I went fishing. It was my first time fishing from the beach, and I managed to catch my first ocean fish, a small Whiting. Today, when I was getting ready to leave, I noticed a noise in my sprocket. It sounded like a bearing problem. After getting some information on the whereabouts of a bike shop, the lawnmower repair guy who gave me that information said, “I’ll fix ‘er if ya let me.” I wasn’t sure, but I finally said, “What the hell; go for it!” He used thick axel grease, but when he finished the noise was gone. I was happy to pay him the $2, as I hit the highway heading to where I would turn north once again.

In the Florida-Georgia area, I saw lots of poverty. For a long time, I didn’t see one white person. I felt like I was the guy in the Cadillac. I mean, I was on a bicycle, but it was a super bicycle compared to what the black kids were riding. It wasn’t a good feeling. I ignored the insults and innuendos, but I couldn’t ignore the sun. Out west, rain demanded cover; down south, sun demanded cover. When I biked into Rawls, a one gas station town, I had had it. While drinking a juice, I told the black attendant that I was looking for a place to put up my tent. He (Shelly) asked the lady owner if I could pitch my tent behind the station. It was okay with her, so I bought a six-pack of beer, put up my tent, and am presently inside my tent, drinking the lady’s gift of coffee and eating a carrot—next the beer. I hope to stay untouched by Georgia’s black-white animosities. I plan on traveling hard tomorrow.

I have a four-inch blister on my foot; the surprise gift I got while walking on the hot pavement back at Fernandina Beach, Florida. That lesson won’t have to be relearned. The sun is setting. I got a couple things jotted down back at the state park. I guess Carole Sue still haunts me.

Untitled

Everything whole retreats,

untold stories forever behind me,

lights that do not arise,

leaving gray.

Howling night visions, oblique shadows,

unannounced, unforgiving.

Turns the mystery,

reveals the clock…Behold,

the days few

in uneven darkness.

The storm undertaken,

or survival is not.

Getting By

Together in highs

and lows

made it easy, and so

we tried, but failed

and all we knew

was that we fell

together.

May 19

This was bottomland, all the way to Savannah. It was hot, even for here. I biked more than ninety miles, and my ass was (is) sore. At the end of that day I happened upon a free park. I was sweaty and tired, so it was no surprise when I jumped into the river as soon as I got off my bike. The posted sign said, “Swim at your own risk,” but it would’ve had to say much more than that to keep me out of the water, which by the way was fine. When I jumped in the river, a couple of young kids were just leaving. I stayed in the water for quite awhile. I even washed my hair (It needed it). I was still swimming when I met this guy who told me why the sign was posted. Not because of currents or things like that, but rather because of the snakes and gators. This was the place my friend came to catch the snakes that he would then turn around and sell to Savannah’s Reptile Gardens. He had caught a cottonmouth and a water rattler that very same day.

He certainly was an interesting fellow. He kept a 17-foot boa constrictor for a pet. According to him, that was some kind of record. Four years ago when he bought the snake for $70., it was only four feet long. At that time, the snake ate two white mice a week. Now, he eats five to seven rabbits a week, depending on how many my friend can shoot for him. The rabbits are shoved down the snake’s mouth with a coat hanger. The big guy is kept in the closet and gets out once in awhile. But, as might be expec
ted, when my friend shuts the closet door, the snake gets mad. “I don’t like to be around him when he gets mad,” said my friend, “but after about five hours of ‘cooling off time,’ it’s safe to open the door again.” The 200 lb snake, according to my friend, was capable of eating a man whole—some pet.

After Hitting My Ass His Hand Probably Broke

North Of Savannah, Georgia

May 20, ‘77

Morning found me ready to mount up and ride—a full day of riding in the blistering sun. Afternoon found me sore and spent. When I reached Savannah, I walked my bike up and over the Savannah River Bridge—a long hike. The highway on the other side of the bridge that separated Georgia from South Carolina was suicide. Highways 95 and 17 merged into a northbound two-lane road. The semis were so thick that one would be coming from the front while another was passing me on the side. Any kind of structure sticking out from one of the trucks would have been enough to decapitate me. My four inches of highway were always a challenge. The shoulder of the road dropped off four to six inches into loosely packed gravel. That would have been a disastrous transition for a ten-speed bike moving at 20 to 25 mph to make. Fortunately, I did not fall off the highway, but my nerves were shot after an hour’s ride.

When three or four semis in a row passed me, I would get propelled down the highway. The initial push was always towards the shoulder, but the secondary suction pulled me back onto the highway and forward behind the exhaust reeking semi. At one point I almost lost it. All I could do was hold on tight and let the suction have its way. Just when I was beginning to get the hang of things and I thought I would survive– smack, something hit me from behind. My whole body shook from the vibrations, and then the pain started. I was waiting for the blood, but it never came, as I miraculously kept my bike on the highway. Some asshole in a pick-up truck hit me on the ass with his hand. I took the blow with my hip, but I bet the asshole broke his hand. I made pretty good time, but it was amazing I survived to tell this story.

I got off that highway as fast as I could, and the rest of the day went pretty well (if you call pedaling another 80 miles in 115 degree heat– while wearing a blue jean jacket– well). South Carolina was pretty (if you call swampy, desolate, pretty), but it was a little scary because of all the poisonous snakes. I haven’t seen any live gators (one dead), but biking along the highway I did see the largest non-zoo snake ever. It was 4 or 5 inches around and about 6 feet long. It was moving just off the highway at about the same speed I was biking. I switched gears and left the snake behind.

The whole snake thing, to say the least, made camping along the highway a bit precarious, which brings me to the point: I’m sitting here in my tent, fifty or so miles out of Charleston, writing in my journal, I feel like a little kid hiding his head under his blanket for protection. This was the best spot I could find to put up my tent– in the middle of bottomland, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of snake country. I know the critters are not far off. When I think of a snake slithering under my tent, I get the heebe jeebies. Oh well, such is life! Last night for dinner, I had a quart of beer, a can of cold spaghetti and bread. Tonight I’m having carrots, bread, and water. I wonder if I could interest Good Housekeeping with a few diet tips?

P.S. Snapping Chiggers off my tent screen with my fingers. Goodnight for now. See you tomorrow, I hope.

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