We’ve just crossed the Alabama Florida line, and the 15th and 16th dogs that day run out of their yard to chase me, and I snap.
“Arff arff arff arff arff!” they yell.
“Fuck you fuck you fuck you!” I yell, and boot the closest dog in the head. Four really good, solid kicks, excellent cranial connection, rolling along at 12 miles an hour.
The dog is undeterred. Maybe it’s because I’m kicking with rubbery Vans. Wags his tail and barks some more. This is a very fun game for dog.
“Arff arff!” Tail wag.
I kinda slump and coast away from the dog. It stops chasing now that I’m away from its yard. I went into one of those blind animal rages, would’ve killed the dog if I had something more lethal than a skate shoe handy.
A little embarrassed about that loss of composure, I don’t mind dogs, and that one wasn’t even aggressive (most aren’t, but we have encountered a couple that have been really trying to eat us- it’s weird how easy their expressions are to read).
It wears on you though. So many loose dogs in the South.
At a little corrugated-roofed breakfast place halfway between Alabama and the Gulf.
“Trump, now he’s good for everybody in this country. Even for Hispanics like yourselves,” says a guy to the couple in the booth in front of him. Here we go.
They mumble something non-confrontational.
“And now I’m not gonna be jealous,” he says, sounding jealous, “but tell me how you come by that truck?” (There’s a new F250 parked out front, Lariat or some other upscale trim.)
“We work hard for what we have,” says the woman.
“Well I work hard too, and I ain’t got a truck like that one,” he says accusingly.
“My joints have been killing me in this cold spell, it better turn soon,” the waitress butts in, defusing the conversation.
“Well me, I want it to snow. I love the snow,” says the cook, one of those guys that for some reason has to be contrary.
I finish my omelette, feeling like now would be a good time to leave, and also like I need to use the bathroom.
“Ready?” I say to Colleen.
“Yep,” she says, and stands up.
“Ok, I just need to go to the bathroom real quick.”
She plops back down and sighs. Hates it when I do that.
We ride on the hard packed sand outside of Santa Rosa Beach after spending a night with Rick and Laura, who Colleen and I guided on a bike tour earlier that year (thanks again guys).
It’s so good to be on the Gulf, beautiful hard-packed white sand.
And a flu coming on. Oh boy. I struggle on the next few miles. Fried catfish at some shiny retrofuturistic diner. More struggling, side of some real busy highway. Crappy highway motel, flop down in the bed.
A few days later, Colleen gets it too. The dreaded super-flu of 2018 (I don’t know if it’s actually any worse this year than it always is, but the TV news people would have you think so).
We just made Pensacola, it’s still freezing. So another hotel. The Days Inn has a special deal on Expedia- score! Very fancy for us.
Colleen is in bed. Pretty serious super-flu. Almost crying.
“This tour was a bad idea,” she says.
I lean forward in the Days Inn office chair. I’ve treated myself to a big size Corona (I paid an extra 30 cents for the premium import) from the gas station across the street and am starting to feel a little better.
“Come on, it hasn’t been that bad, has it?”
“I don’t know,” she says. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to tour so soon after she did Tour Divide. I know I would have wanted more time off the year I did the race. “It’s just been so cold. And crappy.”
It has been. Unusually chilly winter. And really, not excellent riding either. Dogs, narrow roads, dead little towns, hardly anybody to talk to, very few roller dog machines. But at the same time- “Man, I don’t know. I think about it, and even though this isn’t my favorite kind of place either, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing.”
“Maybe it’s just the flu taking,” Colleen says, and rolls over into her pillow.
We spend the next few days recovering at the Methodist Church in Pensacola (Jeb, the youth pastor there is a cyclist, and lets bike tourists stay in the activities building).
Bob from England is there at the same time, the first and only other rider we’ve seen.
Two days later, we’re finally over the flu and ready to get rolling again.
We cross Mobile Bay by ferry. Boat ride! Always a highlight.
And camp in the lower porch of a beach house- without the owner there.
The people who own the place are on Warmshowers, and trust people to camp at their place when they aren’t around, but have one rule: “We’ve given it a lot of thought, and we can’t allow Trump voters to camp at our place. I’m sorry. If you voted for Trump, go somewhere else.”
As you’d probably guess, this didn’t disqualify us from porch sleeping, but I still think it’s a terrible way to deal with a political disagreement, that way too many people seem to be adopting. A conversation with someone you don’t agree with is an opportunity to find some common ground, understand each other, maybe even do some good, person to person. Although that can be uncomfortable, it’s much easier to take a stand on the internet.
But like I said, they weren’t home anyway. And we did appreciate the porch. Now I’ll try to stop using this site as the world’s tiniest soapbox and take my own advice.
A few days later, we’re in a Waffle House in Biloxi, Mississippi. We’ve been on the road about 45 days at this point, averaging one Waffle House per day, so this is about the 45th Waffle House. They have a worse reputation than they deserve. Their staff was nice 45 out of 45 times, and the eggs were fine at the same rate.
Last night we stayed with Freda, another real nice Warmshowers host, whose house is on a very, very small hill. Maybe four or five feet higher than the houses around her.
Which mattered, when Katrina came through, and everybody around her flooded.
“I had my mom, my sister and her husband, all her kids, two dogs and a cat living in this little two bedroom. For a year.”
“And down at the shipyards, where we build destroyers for the Navy, all that, you had even the engineers that lost their homes and had to live in tents for a year or more. Couldn’t get FEMA trailers. Wearing too-small clothes they picked out of the donation pile at the grocery store. You don’t think of things like that happening in America. But they did,” she says. “But I think it made us realize down here, the material things don’t matter.”
At the Waffle House, the weather certainly isn’t hurricane bad, but it isn’t nice either. Cold headwind, the kind that just cuts straight through all your clothes, grey, the Gulf is grey, choppy, and there’s a lot of traffic.
I look out the Waffle House window at the casinos. Which makes me wonder what it would cost to fly to Vegas. I click my phone on. Colleen is looking sadly at her pale grits.
“We could fly to Vegas tomorrow for 88 bucks.”
“88 dollars?” She looks happy for the first time in weeks. “Let’s do it!”
“Man, I don’t know.” It feels like quitting, even though our only real goal was to get through the winter. “Maybe we ride to New Orleans, then decide.”
We go outside to pedal into the wind toward New Orleans.
“Vegas! Warm!” Colleen says happily. It’s pretty obvious she’s made up her mind.