Date: Fri, 23 Feb 96 02:59:00 UTC 0000
Copyright (c) 1995 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 11 - Dec 7 to Dec 21 Jacksonville, FL to Tallahassee, Fl - 4334 miles cumulative
It was dark. The overcast sky glowed with an orange hue from the lights of the city of St. Augustiine. We sat at our picnic table relaxing after a busy day of sight seeing. Our little 2 watt head lamps made two small circles of light in an otherwise dark and empty campground. I attempted to belt out a few Christmas caroles on the flute to take some of the deathly silence out of the air while Brian sat next to me reading. Suddenly I felt claws grab my hand. I yelped and turned, but it was already gone. Durn racoons.
For six nights straight we had an all out war with the racoons and possums of the Anastasia State Park. Sometimes we'd win the battle only to lose the next night. We didn't know about the coon problem when we first arrived. We promptly put our day pack full of cookies, English muffins, and granola bars in the tent and headed off to the grocery store to find dinner. We returned to find the pack outside the tent, unzipped, the cookies half eaten and the English muffins totally gone. Yes these racoons do know how to use zippers, buttons, latches, and whatever. For the rest of the night we had six racoons and one possum coming for multiple assults on our food. Our defense, hang the food on a clothes line and squirt the animals in the face with ... ammonia. I know it sounds cruel, but it seemed to be the only thing that would keep them at bay. We just happened to have the squirt bottles and ammonia because we've found that to be our only defense against some of the visious dogs we meet on the road. It doesn't seem to hurt the animals, but it certainly gets their attention.
We had a reprieve the next two nights as several troops of Boy Scouts showed up and kept all the animals suitably entertained for the evening. You didn't know Boy Scouts could be so useful. But, after they left it was just us and the squadron of coons who had some pretty good tricks up their sleeves.
In the middle of one night we awoke to find two green glowing eyes swinging back and forth about 3 ft. off the ground. Our clothes line had sagged and a racoon had jumped up onto a zippered food bag and was trying to hang on and unzip at the same time. A readjustment of the clothes line handled that problem. Yet throughout the adjustment the racoon sat in the very tree we had the line tied to and watched the activity. It stayed long enough to determine that he could no longer reach the food bag. We won the battle for that night.
The very next night, anther one or possibly the same one made an attempt to climb into my lap. I jumped and yelled more out of surprise than fear. After all these things are rather cute, but a royal pain in the "you know what." I think it won that particular battle. The grab for my hand was the final onslaught on our final night in the park.
We came away feeling that we'd won the war of the Anastasia racoons only to have a squirrel climb onto my rear pannier just as we were getting ready to leave. It chewed several holes and tore the zipper of my top pocket. So in the end the racoons, possums, and squirrels won the final war. This experience has reaffirmed my conviction that you should NEVER NEVER feed the wild animals no matter how much they beg or how cute they are. These animals should have been too afraid of humans to be that agressive.
Our stay in St. Augustine gave us a short break in our riding and an opportunity to play regular tourist for a while. Although I doubt most regular tourists would walk the 3.5 miles to get into town each day. St. Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the U.S. It was founded by Jaun Menedez de Aviles a few days after he made a failed attempt to roust the French from Ft. Caroline further north. He floated down the coast, created the settlement, and then planned his next strategy for getting rid of the French. He ultimately succeeded and the Florida territory, which they believed extended from Canada to the Mississippi, went under Spanish rule until 1763. St Augustine became a critical military base to protect the Spanish treasure ships ladened with the gold and silver that was forcibly taken from the Indians in Mexico. The Spanish ships would sail along the Florida coast following the Gulf stream to return to Spain.
Life for these early settlers in St. Augustine was rather sparten. The men mostly were soldiers and spent a good deal of their time in the fort protecting the city. While the women, along with their off-duty husbands, would take up other occupations to support their everyday needs. But in general the population was supported by Spain both in pay and supplies. It was an extremely religious Catholic community where a missed mass meant 24 hours in the stocks.
As a consequence of the treaty that ended the French/Indian wars, the Spanish ceded the Florida territory to the British in exchange for Havana, Cuba. The British were to have only a 20 year stay since the newly formed U.S. returned the eastern portion of Florida to Spain as a reward for their help in the American revolution. During their very short stay, the British made a significant impact upon the architecture of the city. Buildings were expanded, fireplaces (not used in the Spanish homes) were added, and the doors were moved to the front of the homes rather than the side.
The Spaniards returned in 1783 and only stayed until 1821 when they finally gave up their holdings to the U.S. Evidently tensions over slave relations, a civil war in Spain, and difficult times with their other New World holdings convinced the Spanish that they could no longer support Florida. The slave relations actually proved to be one of the major reasons for Spains leaving. They were much more humane to their slaves and the King of Spain actually freed all slaves. Consequently runaway slaves from the newly formed U.S. flocked to Florida and freedom. This flood was even going on long before the British took over in 1763. So, naturally, the British and then the U.S. were continually attacking St. Augustine trying to drive the Spaniards out. It didn't work. Spain had built a stone fort on the point just outside of town and a sentry post down near the inlet to the St. Johns river. These two forts came under a lot of fire, but never fell. The two forts, Castilla de San Marcos and Ft. Matanzas (meaning "slaughters" in Spanish for the slaughter of the French that took place back in the 1500s) still stand as a tribute to Spain's tenacity in hanging onto their North American holdings.
After the U.S. took over St. Augustine, wealthy plantation owners flocked to Florida, bringing with them their tough and inhumane slave practices. But the Civil war ruined the agriculture value of the region. In the late 1800s Henry Flagler saw St. Augustine as a great location for a resort community rivaling many in Europe. So he built an incredibly posh hotel with a very well appointed health spa across the street. Another invester built a hotel on the opposite corner, but this was also bought by Flagler making a triad of exquisitly furnished hotles for the very rich to spend their winters. The buildings are in a Minorcan style with gray poured concrete walls trimmed with red spires, towers, and balconies. All very ornate and detailed. His first hotel, built in 1888, was actually the first major building in the U.S. to be constructed of poured concrete. So it all started here, those faceless, nameless, buildings that all look alike.
St. Augustine lives on today as a major tourist trap .... uh I mean attraction. Both forts are now part of the National Park Service and have been restored to remarkably good condition. Cannon firing demonstrations are even held at the Castillo, although they use only 12 oz. of black powder with wadded material rather than 3 lbs of powder with an 8 lb iron ball. Their neighbors across the river in their very expensive homes get a little upset when they use a real ball. :-)
The narrow streets of the downtown were originally laid out by the Spanish in a very rectangular pattern having the church, government buildings, and central square as their focal point. This regular pattern was actually a decree set down by the King of Spain. Of course, over time the small houses were enarged and given second stories and balconies that overhang the streets. Filled with flowers, pennants, flags, and gift shops these houses and streets now have a very festive and colorful atmosphere. There's all sorts of goodies to tantalize the eyes and taste buds.
Behind the enclosed walls of the street lie the Spanish Quarter Living History museum where you can view some of the daily activities of the Spanish era. The activities were very similar to those that we've seen in other such museums, wood working, black smithing, and old houses. But, some of the stories were quite different. For example, in the 1700s men who worked with wood in countries like England and France had strict restrictions as to the type of work they could do based upon their particular craftsman guild. A carpenter built the house frames, an apprentice could apply the siding and roofs, a joiner would finish the interior decorative wood and the cupboards, and a cabinet maker built the furniture. Cabinets referred to all the interior furniture that was not attached to the house. Cupboards were actually peg boards attached to the walls on which you hung your cups, hence cup boards.
In Spain the work of a wood craftsman was restricted to a particular type of wood. The word carpenter means one who works with pine (pen). They could do anything as long as they used pine. The carpenters had a very strong guild and virtually everything in Spain was made of pine, except perhaps for housing frames where they used a stronger hardwood. Being a soft wood, pine does not lend itself to turning on a lathe. So the Spanish furniture was essentially simple block construction. In fact, before the age of the machine lathe all furniture was made of pine and were simple block like. This was because hardwoods are just too hard to carve by hand. Ever try to carve something out of oak?
The grand hotels built by Flagler still exist. One is a libral arts college, named after Flagler of course, another is the city hall, and the third, the old health spa, houses an interesting museum of Victorian artifact collected by the millionaire Otis Lieghtner. He collected the most incredible variety of stuff, ranging from cigarette lighters, buttons, music boxes, lamps, shaving mugs, shells, and glass. One entire floor was dedicated to the most beautiful collection of glass. Two tables were packed with all sorts of leaded cut glass articles. Pitchers, vases, bowels, cups, plates, and an assundry of other items brilliantly sparkled under the auspiciously placed spot lights. I've always had a weakness for fine cut glass. But I did not envy the poor person who has to dust and clean this collection to keep everything sparkling. Turns out one of the volunteers got that job. I guess it's a labor of love.
Each of the 6 days we spent in St. Augustine we'd walk "home" in the dark across the historic Lions bridge. For the holidays, the city and many of the town businesses had hung strings of white christmas lights. Lights outlined the bridge railings, handrails along the pier, porches and patios of the buildings, trees and bushes in the parks. It created a wonderful, unreal, Disneyland appearance and we had to stop each night just to look.
The route out of St. Augustine took us west of Rt. 1 into the "other" part of the city. St Augustine is a very, very touristy town filled with hotels, motels, restaurants, and trinket shops that sell everything a tourist could ever possibly want, whether they need it or not. Rt. 1 is the major thoroughfare that brings the tourists from the Interstate to the tourist section. Consequently it's a rare tourist indeed that ventures west of Rt. 1. There you will find the small southern houses and shacks that are in desparate need of paint and repairs. Homes that look very lived in with hundreds of multi colored plastic toys out front. Or the ever present house with all the piles of junk, junk tools, junk cars, junk lawn care products, you name it it's there. The tourists don't see this side of St. Augustine and I'm sure the city board is not anxious to show it off.
At one point we stopped to consult our maps and a medium built, black man with real short hair, a black and white shirt, and gray/green pants came over to offer his help. "Now when ya'll git to that ther house roun the bend, the one with all the junk cars, if'n the dawgs come at ya just git yourself a big stick and hit'em. They ain't done no harm yet, but you just go an hit em with a big 'ol stick." This went on for about 15 minutes as he continued to extoll the benefits of walloping these dogs with a big 'ol stick. We did finally get in a word long enough to ask for directions to our next destination. "Now when you get to the corner, the one with the junk cars and dawgs, if'n ya keep goin it'll take ya all the way round out that away. Ya want to go to the lef at the curve, at the house with all them junk cars. Go straight out there, see, and go lef at the stop. Go a ways further and turn right." Again the liteny of directions went on for another 15 minutes. Between his unbelievably heavy southern accent and his very inebriated state we did manage to get the gist of what he was saying. Nice fellow, but a little tooooooo drunk.
We continued westward with slight deviations to the south and then to the north again. One thing about the ACA routes, they are anything and everything but direct. On our second night out we stopped at the Twin Lakes Fish Camp and met an incredibly jovial group of retirees. The campground was run by Anne, a heavyset woman with short wavy red hair, a smoking addiction that she'll be the first to admit is stupid, and a great way of making you feel right at home. She calls everybody "honey" or "sweetie". She walks with a slight limp showing that age has taken some toll on her health. She was clearly the person who brought the camp tenants together and made everyone feel like they were at home.
The campground wasn't much to look at. Located on the river between the Loch Loosa and Orange Lakes near Micanopy, Fla. It has several RVs and trailers that are semi permenantly placed there for the winter. A screened patio sported a Christmas tree and ceiling fan and a metal sided building provided tables, chairs, a frig, and an electric organ. Both buildings were adjacent to the fire pit where the tenants would meet, talk, and relax all day long, or whenever they had nothing else to do. "The boys" as Anne called them, consisted of Micky, Jerry, Bill, Charlie, and Carl, all of whom were well beyond retirement age. Each evening they would stoke up a good fire, roast hot dogs, play poker, and swap tales at the fire pit. This was clearly the gathering place.
Paula, the one woman tenant we met, was a tall slender woman with long straight brown hair. She had just recently undergone a mastectomy. The care and concern she received from the rest of the campground tenants was really touching. When she sat down to play the organ everyone stopped what they were doing to come over and listen. They were all so excited to see her getting back to normal.
Anne's daughter, Shelly, also lives in the campground. Shelly has a pretty face, nice shoulder length brown hair, and a reasonably good figure from the waist up. But, she sure has an extreme example of a pear shaped figure. She did just have a baby boy 5 weeks earlier, so I suppose she still has a bit of weight from pregnancy left over. We didn't envy Shelly's situation, though. Her baby has alergies to milk and formulas that gives him terrible gas. As a result he's fussy, cries all night, and is very difficult to feed. I suppose that's one of those baby's that you just can't wait to see grow up. Shelly, for her part, seemed to be taking it rather well. Although she looked totally exhausted and exasperated. The poor baby was bawling and fussing again and it looked like it would be another long, long night for Shelly.
As the evening wore on most of "the boys" retired to the metal shed to play poker except for Micky. He started telling us stories from his days in the service. He had an absolutely incredible 20 year career in the army ranging from WWII to Vietnam. He was drafted in WWII and was among the troops to invade Normandy, both beaches in his case. He told us of how he'd done a bunch of tank training in west Texas in preparation to go into Africa, but then went to Normandy instead. After that he became a communications specialists dealing with a lot of very top secret communications equipment. During the Berlin Airlift he was spirited off by the Army to run communications out of West Germany for 100 days straight. He had no idea he was going until they actually put him on the plane. His mission was so secret, his wife only knew he was gone and was safe. She didn't know where he was or when he'd be back. Just imagine having your spouse just snarfed up by the government with no explanation and you're not even supposed to ask any questions. I suppose that probably still happens in some sectors of the service. But, it must be murder on the one left at home.
Riding directly across the north end of the Florida seems like anythng but Florida. No beaches, no acres and acres of orange groves and gently swaying palm trees, no tourists, no gators. It seems more like riding through eastern Ohio or some such place. After leaving the swampy, sandy coastal region you climb a whopping 100 feet to the "highlands". There you find farmlands with wheat, cows, and basically a lot of the same type of crops we saw in Ohio. Cows were really a surprise to me. I had my heart set on sugar cane, oranges, coconuts, exotic flowers, basically a tropical paradise. Unfortunately that's about 100 miles further south. Well, I didn't get to laze around a hot beach in my swim suit, this time.
By the time we got to Tallahassee and to the home of our good friend Jim Thompson (AKA JT) we had had one of those weeks we all know so well and dread so much. You might call it a there were those rascally squirrels that decided the most expiditious route to my peanut butter was right through the cloth and zipper of my pannier. I can repair it, sort of, but it will never be quite the same.
Next, while putting up our tent Brian pushed the pole right through the pole sleeve, leaving a small tear. Next to our bikes, this tent is our most precious and expensive piece of equipment. After all it's our home. But, between previous bike tours, camping trips, and our current travels we probably have well over a year of continual use on it. So it's showing it's age. No longer a pretty dark green, it looks more like a faded. avocado. It's got small tears that we've been patching and the zippers are not closing very well. With some careful nursing we may be able to get another year of use out of it. But it's time to start the process of getting a new one.
Then while inspecting Brian's rear wheel spokes we noticed several circumferential cracks in the rim. One was only 1 inch in length. But the two worst were at the same location, on opposite sides of the rim, and were a minimum of 3 inches in length. Uh oh. This could spell major problems. Putting my engineer's hat on for a few moments. Fatigue cracks such as these originate from small, often microscopic, flaws in the metal. With continual cyclic loading the flaws become cracks and the cracks grow at a rate that is determined by the type of material and load level. Eventually the crack reaches a "critical" length at which you have catastrophic failure of the structure, which in this case would probably be a collapse of the wheel. A good stop-gap measure that stops the crack growth until you can effect a more permenant repair is to drill a circular hole at the crack tip. This reduces an infinite stress concentration to just 3 times the local stresses which should be well within the safty margin of the structure. The loads then redistribute to the rest of the structure, spokes in our case, and you can continue on.
Well, we don't exactly run around with electric drills on our bikes. So our only option was to try to slow the crack growth by reducing the load. We switched rear wheels, hoping that my 70 lbs less weight would make some difference, and rode on. We actually found out later on that both rear wheels were cracked. Sigh, we now needed to buy two new rear wheels.
The final straw came just about 75 miles east of Tallahassee.Brian's rear derailleur cable broke. Somehow Brian managed to ride over rolling hills against a strong headwind, for 20 miles with only three gears, high, medium, and low. Riding into a headwind is tough enough. But with only three gears we're talking murder. At the town of Monticello we had to make a decision, stay in a hotel and try to replace the cable or call our good friend JT to come get us. Our bikes have the Shimano Hyperglide shift system and we had absolutely no idea how to change a cable on one of these things. It's real easy to afix the cable to the derailleur, but we couldn't see any way to attach it to the shifter itself. We figured if we stayed in a hotel we'd probably wind up spending a full day trying to figure out how to attach the cable, finally give up after being totally unsuccessful, and then call JT in the end. Why waste the money. We got on the phone and called.
Seeing JT's slender, blond haired, very California type figure pull up in his white Toyota pick-up was a sight for sore eyes. We now knew that we would be having a wonderful holiday with a very close friend. We would be in a warm house, have the opportunity to wash everything we own, learn how to completely overhaul the bikes (JT's a part time bike mechanic), and best of all the three of us would would not be alone for Christmas. Brian and I felt very fortunate indeed and this mould make for a very special week.
JT lives in a small, boxy 2 bedroom, 1 bath 1950s style house in an old neighborhood right near the TLH airport. One of those neighborhoods where people have lived for 25 to 35 years and everyone knows everyone else. Since he works for USAIR, this close proximity to his place of employment means he can ride his bike to work. The house has unusual white stucco exterior walls with hand troweled lumps placed in a haphazard pattern. The living room/dining room/ bike repair shop rolled into one is the largest area Two small bedrooms, a tiny hall and bathroom line the right side of the house. A kitchen that is so small you can't turn around without running into yourself is in the back. The house must be about 1000 sq. ft. total and reminds me a lot of Brian's first 800 sq. ft. house in Denver. Actually, it's a perfect size for just one or two people. Cozy and easy care. It has a large back yard with an extra storage shed. At a rent of $400 per month, JT has found himself a perfect place to call home until he reaches retirement and gets to return to San Diego.
JT came from San Diego with only a truck full of bikes, surfboards, bike tools, and a weedwacker. The furniture in the house came from the landlords and consists of a 1950s sofa, two chairs, and a few tables. JT eats, sleeps, works, and lives bikes. Bike stuff can be found everywhere. A bike picture frame, calender, bike maintenance tapes, the four bikes sitting in the living room and the other three in the back bedroom, bike wheels and other parts. Oh, and of course we found one of our favorite things, a Performance bike catalogue to peruse and drool over. Ok I do exagerate a bit, JT aso surfs, flies kites, does C&W dancing, and has an incredibly busy social schedule with dance lessons, parties, and basically visits to friends.
We were very fortunate in that our schedule would allow us to stay with JT for several days while we learned how to completely rebuild the bikes, replacing cables, bearings, and anything else that happens to be a little to old. While we're at it we'd have a great turkey Christmas dinner. Holidays were meant to be spent with friends or family. So we were indeed lucky our paths could pass this way just in time for Christmas.
Appendix A - Route
A1A to St Augustine 214 to 13 to 207 to 17 to Palatka 19 to 310 to 315 to 318 to Citra 301 to 325 to 346 to Micanopy 346 to 329 to 320 to 121 and back road to Archer 241 to Alachua 27 to Fort White Back roads to Ichetucknee Stat Park 137 to Wellborn and I75 Roads following Suwanee River Rt. 90 to Monticello
Appendix B - Camp sites, 5
Anastasia State Park 6 nights ($), St. Johns Campground ($), Twin Lakes Fish Camp ($), Traveler's Campground ($), Ichetucknee Family Grocery and Campground ($), Suwannee River State Park ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.