1 February - High Springs
What? January disappeared already?! And only 3 months now until I am back home! It seems that I am counting the days, which is a bit of a shame if it risks me not living the present for the rest of my trip. Therefore, Domingo Molyneux, make sure this doesn't happen! (even so, I think you might agree that it is a bit natural for a mother to look forward to seeing her children again 'real soon').
The terrain continued to be flat, flat, flat along the coast, when, a few days ago, turning inland to Tallahasee, we encountered hills. Okay, so they were only tiddlers of a couple of hundred feet, but after weeks of no inclines, it was a bit of a surprise to the body (is that why I have achy shoulders? almost unheard of on my trip!).
Having had the promise of gloriously sunny warm days on crossing the border into Florida, we were quickly brought up with a bump at the mixture of weather since: tornado watch (= a pre-warning of a warning of a possible tornado); thundery, lighteningy; humid, muggy; sunny, dry, warm; are-we-moving-forwards? windy; out-with-the-thermals again!.
Although we have gone through swampy areas, we've still not encountered alligators crossing the road (a not unheard of sight), BUT, I did have an alligator burger (here's my order and make it snappy!) the other night in a restaurant - yum. :-) This was part of a fun evening with Jeff and Heidi, warm showers hosts, and UPS Bob, who met us on his bicycle whilst we were on our way to the warm showers home. Bob had passed Nicole and me in his car, gone home, grabbed his bike, hoping to meet us before we turned off to the State Park campsite (where, he thought, we must surely be headed), in order to offer us a bed for the night!!! Turns out he is a neighbour of Jeff and Heidi, although they had not previously met. He was invited out for a meal with us. Hence the fun evening. And new friends for our hosts and would-be patron. See what happens when you cycle? :-) We even ended up the night playing Balderdash.
Since then, we have camped a couple of times - brrr - including in a place called Sopchoppy and on a campsite way down upon the Suwanee river; and more warm showers, in Monticello (thanks Diane and Maria) and now in High Springs (much appreciated, Lys).
I have just finished reading The Hiding Place, the war-time story of a Dutchwoman, Corrie Ten Boom. I had originally read it as a teenager and now was given it by Holly in Austin (her favourite book). As always, God's timing can be pretty on the nail. I was halfway through another book, which I inadvertently left behind in New Orleans, and so started reading this one. It has been incredibly helpful in reconciling some personal issues. The book itself is just so amazing. Recommended reading. :-)
4 February - St Augustine
Today I arrived on the east coast of Florida, in St Augustine, the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the States, founded in 1565. It is also the end/beginning of the southernmost route of the 3 trans-America routes. Tomorrow I shall go and dip Raven's wheels into the Atlantic Ocean.
Since High Springs, we have passed through, and stayed in, Micanopy and Palatka. Micanopy is a small, friendly, interesting town. Finally, we got to sleep inside a church, thanks to the wonderful pastor, Hayden, whose wife, Heather, brought us coffee in the morning whilst we were still in our sleeping bags on the floor of the nursery in the church. After saying our farewells, we went along to the local cafe and met a bunch of locals who seem to hang out on the porch of the cafe for most, if not all, of each day (some we had met there the previous afternoon). There was a photographer for National Geographic who took photos of Nicole and me - and promised to email them to us, as well as send his blogsite (still waiting, Tim); a former pilot with TWA; a rodeo clown and his performing dog.
In Palatka, we came to the Independent Methodist Church in time for supper and then be fought over as to whose home we would be going for the night! :-) Larry and Charla won - to whom we send huge thanks for an interesting and homely evening, night and morning.
Now, we are in an RV, having met up with Nicole's parents, on their way from Georgia back to central Florida. Boy, RVs are big - and spacious - and cosy - and comfortable - and a home away from home. :-) More hospitality. More thanks. I feel so pampered.
14 February - Miami
Wow! I've made it to Miami! :-) So near to home, yet still so far. Yep, I am feeling extremely homesick now. But still glad to be doing the trip. Oh yes.
I left Nicole in St Augustine, having cycled on the beach, sightsee-ed (sightsawed?) the city in the pouring rain; given up a comfortable dry night in the RV to camp in the rain (no, I don't understand that one, either); visited a great farmer's market. Nicole and I had enjoyed a month cycling together; the second longest I'd cycled with anyone. It was great to have had a companion with whom it had been so easy travelling, no misunderstandings and much mutual encouragement along the way. Thanks, Nicole.
The route south has been pretty pleasant on the whole (we're talking about traffic and motorists), although enough rude motorists to be feeling pretty fed up with their intolerant attitude. Pity them, though, to have such a narrow view of life. It was possible to keep off the horribly busy route (1) for the majority of the time. The A1A was reasonable, poor, or very pretty. Occasionally, away from this road, there were some gloriously quiet ones along the river or the sea.
Noteably pretty places en route were Jupiter, Vero Beach, Palm Beach.
The weather continues to be iffy! Still not the hot weather that is supposed to be at this time of year in Florida. But, mostly, it is sunny, at least, and warm when out of the wind. No more rain, though.
One night I camped discreetly behind a Baptist Church, the following morning attending the 8am service at Grace Episcopalian up the road; perfect timing, as, it being the first Sunday in the month, a full cooked breakfast was served in between the two morning services. I was not allowed to leave before partaking fully thereof. In addition, I was handed a small, home-baked, banana and pecan loaf, wrapped in foil and tied with a pink ribbon. And everyone was so friendly. I even had an offer of a bed that night, if I had decided to stay. Oh, life is good.
The rest of the time I have been fortunate enough to stay in warm showers' homes: Marlene in Cocoa; absent Terry in Vero Beach (oh, I could live in such a place as his! for one thing, it's on the beach), welcomed so kindly by Phil; Lynne in Jupiter; Ray and Dee in Fort Lauderdale (get this: we spent the entire evening in the hot tub, adjoined to the swimming pool, situated beside the river, wineglass in hand); Art and Co in Miami - an extremely interesting household broadening my perspective of people no end :-). And talking of warm showers, after talking to Nancy, in the park, she went straight home, signed up to be a warm showers host and now is excitedly awaiting her first cyclist to stay. :-)
Today I started off to go to Key Largo when, after experiencing difficulty changing gears, they suddenly stuck in mid-gear and I could not shift them!! I stopped by the roadside, tried repeatedly to move the gear shift, thinking, this cannot be happening!! How am I going to finish my trip if my bike isn't working?! I admit that a few tears were shed for a few seconds, but then I remembered that things have always worked out so far and so why should they not continue to do so? :-) I started cycling back to the warm showers place I'd just left. Halfway back I encountered a couple of squad cars parked and so asked about bike shops. The policeman gave me directions, repeated them, drew a map, pointed to the road I should be going along. I thanked him, set off, checked the road name sign (there was a fork in the road) and confidently set off along it. A few minutes later, a loud voice came over the pa system of the police car: "you've taken the wrong road. I told you to stay on the 136". Ooops. Not for the first time I wondered how I had managed to get this far around the world. The bike shop was closed.
Anyway, long story shortened (really?), I returned to the warm showers place from where later I went along to a bike shop that was open, taking with me the spare gear cable and something else to do with the gear system. The bike man, Manni, from Mack Cycles, looked at the system and said he didn't know how it worked; he tried the gear shift, but couldn't move the gears; looked again at the system and said he'd have to have the bike for some days and, if spare parts were needed, would have to order them in. He tried the gear shift again. Nothing. Then .... hey presto! he got out his lubricant spray, made a couple of squirts onto the gear shift joint - and started twisting the shift! :-) Turns out, I should have been spraying this whenever I was meticulously spraying all the other moving joints on the bike! Which means that this one hadn't been lubricated since the service in Dubai, a year ago! Naughty me. - Didn't I tell you, though, that things always work out somehow?! :-)
27 February - Santo Domingo
I managed to make it to Key Largo, having had to brave the incredibly busy route 1, compounded by no hard shoulder due to the road works for the first 9 miles from Florida City, exacerbated by a continuous stream of holiday traffic in honour of President's holiday week. Having survived this onslaught, the ensuing 20 miles or so were pretty pleasurable, with a wide, clean, smooth hard shoulder, more than enough to relax by. On arrival in Key Largo, I looked for campsites. Ooooh dear. The State Park was full, no allowances for biking in and no compunction in turning away a bike. 'You needed to have booked up months ago; and, anyway, we only really cater for RVs'. All other campsites were also booked; 'but there are plenty of hotels'. With the campsites being $50 a throw, I don't really think so. In the end, though, as usual, something turned up. :-) I asked at a church and the pastor directed me to the Outward Bound Discovery Centre next door, who kindly let me put up my tent out the back. The next morning was a delight: a group of young teenage girls and their youth leaders returned with their canoes and gear, having just completed a 21-day trip to the Gulf of Mexico, during which they slept on the sea on boards strapped to their canoes! Wow! They were so enthusiastic about what they had done; it was wonderful to see. They were also pretty interested in my trip; it was great to see such a positive response from them; I hope it will encourage them further with their own lives.
Whilst breakfasting in a diner that same morning, I chatted to a couple of elderly men, one of whom offered me a night's accommodation. When his lady friend was told later, she was afraid for him that he might be at risk of being knifed to death from this total stranger. Fair enough. But he wasn't, so everyone was happy.
Since then I've stayed with the hospitable Ellen and her daughter, Beth, also warm showers, who almost gave up being hosts after a Polish couple stayed with them for 17 days !!! I'm so glad they didn't; it's been lovely staying there. I've made 2 little side trips, leaving my bike and baggage with Ellen and Beth. For the first one I flew up to Halifax, Nova Scotia for a few days, meeting up with a friend. We visited Anne of Green Gables' house whilst there. In order to reach Prince Edward Island there is a 13 km bridge to traverse. The seascape of Northumberland Bay is fairly dramatic: bleak and frozen. On the other side of the island is the Gulf of St Lawrence; and 3000 miles beyond is my home.
Whilst up north I learnt how to drink Tequila with beer chaser. There might even be a video along soon demonstrating my newly-acquired experience.
My second trip was my planned one to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. This was where my great grandfather had sailed, accompanied by his wife, who gave birth to their first son, who was given the name Domingo by the governor, in honour of him being the first Norwegian to be born there. I received great help, from the tourist centre woman, who sent me to Departimenti de Restoraccion. A young man, Julio, took me under his wing and we went from one room to another, even seeing some old records, but finally being told that their records didn't go back as far as 1892. I was re-directed to Archivo de la Nacion. Here, I was able to look through a bound copy of folios at the names of people born in the year in question, plus a couple either side. Sad to say my grandfather's name was not mentioned. So then, where is the record? I tried at the local Mormon cathedral, even being allowed in by its President, even though the general public are not normally granted access to the family search office. All the information they have, though, is on the internet, not as an original document. All I had wanted to find was the record of his birth to photo or to make a copy. Oh well, I tried. And people really were trying to be helpful.
This morning saw hordes of black-suited security men and uniformed police with rifles outside the old cathedral in the old city area. The President of the island was due to arrive. I can only think it was as part of the celebrations for Independence Day, which was today. I fly out to Miami this afternoon.
In the meantime, for those within easy access and wishing to come along (or even from further away, if you were to be so inclined), please note the following date: Saturday 15 May 2010, 3-5pm. The Leprosy Mission (TLM) is holding a welcome home event for me in Almondsbury, under the lich gate, at 3pm. I shall be formally welcomed home by Eddie 'the Eagle' Edwards and by Steve Webb, my MP, hopefully with some press in attendance; followed by tea in the Old School Hall. It would be lovely to have people come along. If you plan to do so, please would you drop an email to the TLM organiser of the event, Helen Huthwaite (HelenH@tlmew.org.uk), in order to cater numbers for the tea. :-) Looking forward to seeing you. :-)
More photos uploaded.