Monday, November 17, 2008

November,17th - St. Augustine, Florida

St. Augustine is the oldest city in the US and the end point of the southern tier. Even as I didn’t cycle here I wanted to be here. I went to the beach into Anastasia state Park. At the end of it I saw a building, which I found out was a hotel. I checked in and took a room with a balcony to the beach for 2 nights and if the weather would have been warmer I would stay even another night, but the heating doesn’t work and it is supposed to go down to freezing the next night. My lower back is bothering me and cold nights don’t help that. So I will check out the city this morning and go further down south to meet Andreas tomorrow evening in Miami. On the other side I am pretty tired of endless beaches and flat landscape. You can do not much more than walk along endless unchanging sand strips and that is too meditation like for me. St. Augustine and St. Augustine beach are too touristy for me, here at the beach everything is pretty much empty, but that’s is only because it’s so cold and the first days of the week. Anyhow there are still plenty of people on the beach and when I passed the historical downtown on Sunday it was crowded and not very enticing to stop and have a look. I hope it will be a bit better this morning.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

November 16th - leaving Jekyll island

I had to check out because they were booked out for the weekend. I am getting tired of travelling and would really have liked to stay longer. I returned the bike and went for a last hike at the beaches. Afterwards I had a big lunch in the millionaires club hotel dining room which was big but satisfying. When I left it started to rain. I hit the road in the rain and did not like the driving so I checked into a hotel after just one hour of driving. I am now only seven miles from Florida and the sun is shining again. I hope that I will make it to St. Augustine tonight and find a nice place to stay, but I have no idea what to expect. The only thing I know is that I need to be Wednesday evening at Miami airport to pick up Andreas and we will go to Naples for a short stay together before I will start a swift drive back,while Andreas goes to Europe and will hopefully come back on the 5th with my new bike. I am very exited.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

November 12th to 15th - Jekyll Island

After having left Savannah, I got lured in an outlet center. I had no real running shoes with me and without bicycle I will need them. I will still have more than 3 weeks to go until I return home. So I got a pair of trail runners which I hopefully can use to hike a bit as well. And I got even more audio books. Now I have really enough books to listen to for the whole long trip home.
I am reading "Journal of a residence on a Georgian Plantation in 1838-39" by Frances A. Kemble. The plantations she describes here are on St. Simon Island which is one of the golden isle just a short distance north of Jacksonville, Fl. First I missed the turn-off for it, so I turned and drove over the causeway. I followed a sigh which said tabby slave cabins and came to a big Methodist center filled with old women. At that time I had no idea what tabby means, but I learned meanwhile, that it is a building material baked out of oyster shells, sand and lime which was used a lot already by the Spanish in St. Augustine. The cabins didn't show anything about there past and seemed to be only used as backdrop for the local garden club nativ plant garden exibition. So I left for the beach. I took a wrong turn again and was on the causeway off the island again with no opportunity to turn back. So I just decided to go to the next island against I decided before because the information that I read out of a flyer was that it was very expensive and high end as having been for long time the vacationing spot of a club which consisted of the industriell elite of the noth like the Rockefellers and Pulitzers, which was by now a hotel. Never the less I was on my way there. Before entering there was a visitor center, where I got coupons for hotel room. They were all incredible cheap and I decided on a place at the very end of the island ( Villas by the Sea) where the rented out apartements for 70 $ per night. Unfortunately they had only the awful beachcruiser bikes but they send my to the main place to get bikes and I rented a Schwinn which was not much better, but had at least gears.
I surrounded the island the same afternoon (27km) and was smitten by it's beauty. It has wonderful cycle paths and wild pristine forest as well as lakes the historical center which is a very prettily maintained Statepark and a lot of marchland.
The next day I took a bit more time to drive around the island and had an exellent seafood lunch at he rah bar which has owners from LA. They have exelland oysters - not from here rather from Chesapeak Bay and a wonderful seafood boil with shrimps, dungeness crabs etc. I met this couple from Paris, Tennessee which invited me to join them at their table which makes lunch just more fun. I met them the next day again, they took a Photo of me before they left.
Yesterday I took a tour of the historical district, which was not too interesting even if it took one and a half hour and needed to eat a seafood boil again. By now I saw pretty much everthing on the island and after the weekend crowd arrived I am not to sad that I have to leave today.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

November 8th to 11th My bike was stolen in a brazen Robbery in Charleston

I drove from Wilmington to Charleston, where I circled a bit to find a hotel. On Hwy 17 just before it left the city to the south I found a best Western which hosted a bicycle tour organizer convention. I felt this was the place for me and checked in for two nights. I went out to explore the city center on foot as it is getting really early dark nowadays and I don't have light on my bike. (I have actually lights that I could fix to my bike but don't feel very save to ride in the dark. On a website for cyclists in Charleston I found a description of several bike routes to explore city and beaches and I intended to do so the next morning.
Charleston is really pretty but full with tourists. As it is so small and gets cruise ships coming in you really feel the impact of 500 visitors at one time. Cruise ship tourist are not interesting people you can find. I always think when I see them disembarking in SF that I would never want to be with 500 or even many more elderly people, who never stay overnight anywhere and eat their meals always on the same ship, enclosed in such a tight place for my whole vacation. I don't really get why this is attractive in any way. I found a nice restaurant next to the college of Charleston where I had an excellent low country specialty with fried oysters, crab meat, grits and oysters and pounds of melted butter. I could only eat half of it and I usually can eat a lot. I went home to my hotel, had a good night beer in the roof top bar of the Marriot next door and went to bed. In the morning I copied down my routes that I wanted to take and went down in the lobby to get a Charleston map. I had left my car directly in view of the front desk next to the front door. As my room was on the 6th floor and several cars outside had bikes on top I left my bike locked in the roof rack. I had my map looked out to my car and saw that the bike was missing...
I had to wait for the cops who came and took down my name and made me call in the serial numbers. They told me a lot of bikes get stolen in Charleston and they usually find them after some weeks. But I doubt that there are many nice road bikes around anyhow and much less get stolen. Of all the bicycles that I saw in Charleston not one was as nice as mine. I pounded the possibilities: One of the conventioneers, who were leaving that morning or perhaps someone from the bike shop across the bridge where I had it to try to do something about the problems that I had with my front derailleur. Whatever the bike is gone and I couldn't change it. I rented a road bike (I think this was the worst one that I have ever ridden.) and rode my planned tour. When I came back to the hotel I encountered the night security guard and he told me that he saw the thief and tried to stop him but he backed his truck nearly over him. He could describe him and the truck - dark blond, tall slender dark gray pick-up truck, of which I forgot the make - but he didn't get the license plate.
So now I am without bike for the next three weeks. Andreas was at once online to check on new bikes for me. We found a special in Germany which seems to be real good value and we ordered that. Until now we don't have any confirmation, that we get it but I am rally exited about this as it seems to be an upgrade to my old bike.
I really like Folly Beach outside Savannah. It is part of Charleston but has a really relaxed vibe to it, at least in this time of the year. I left Charleston to go to Hilton Heads. I was not so sure about this as I don't like big beach resorts. But it is the only one in the south (and outside Florida) that I have ever heard about. I found a room in a Motel 6 which was 33$ including tax. For that price I had to chase down a cockroach and in the morning a lizard jumped out of my suitcase just to stay on the power cord of my laptop for the rest of my time there. The beach was nice to run on but there much to many people there and hundreds of beach cruiser cyclists on the beach. The nice thing is that here in the south everything is green and hidden in forests all malls are not visible from the street as they are behind a big green strip of forest, which means on the other side they take up even more space and everything is really far away from each other, but at least it is optically pleasing, which is a rare thing to be said about malls.
Yesterday I was in Savannah where I had already after Charleston the second Veterans Day Parade this week. It seems that all high schools in the Savannah area have ROTC programs. I am so happy that SF bans them. I think it is a scary thing that schools take the underprivileged kids and instead of teaching them to think critically for themselves teach them blind obedience and how to kill and die for the financial win of big corporation whose shareholder don't ever fight themselves. Savannah is very pretty. If it wouldn't have all the trees full of spanish mos it could be any small european city as well. I enjoyed walking around and it seems to me a more real place than Charleston which has a slight artificial gout to it. Tourist, wealthy retirees and students as main visible inhabitants of the historical downtown.

Monday, November 10, 2008

November 6th and 7th - Cedar Island NC

I left Cape Hatteras to go further south. I am just sorry that I didn't get a photo of the white cat in the motel which was about double as heavy as Minou. From here you have to take two ferries the first to Ocracoke Island Takes about 30 minutes and from there further to Cedar Island is a 2.25 h journey. It was beautiful on the boat. the second section was as far that I could not see any land when we were about midpoint. Ocracoke island has one settlement at the end and seems to be really relaxed. But I preferred Cedar Island which has one motel directly at the ferry landing and one convenience store about half a mile away. I had a very nice 50 km ride in the morning (really flat) and enjoyed it less than I could have because a very determined mosquito bit me through both jerseys I was wearing and the bites inflamed at once into huge boils. I explored the National Park headquarters. They had two little walks and the most pathetic Museum that you can imagine. It had plenty of Baseball picture of the local high school and other fairly recent stuff but nothing about the native Americans and the slaves who used to live in the area as well.
I stayed over night in Wilmington. W. is a pretty small town on the fear river which end with Cape fear. I saw both movies but still had no intention to visit as I imagine this to look very much like all the seashore that I have seen in the last days. This is not a very exiting landscape.

Friday, November 7, 2008

November 3rd to 5th - Outer Banks, NC

After leaving the smoky mountains the weather turned into something really dark. I didn’t see the sun the whole day so nothing enticed me to stop and I drove past Winston-Salem than Durham-Raleigh without stopping. It’s getting night now pretty early. By 5:30 it was pretty much pitch dark. So I stopped at the first exit which indicated hotels. I stayed in the business area of a city called Rocky Mount. In the night it started to pour and it didn’t stop in the morning. I stopped shortly before I reached the coast at a state park which was an old plantation. I thought it was a good idea to spent election day on which the first black american would be elected in a slave holding place in the south. Even though Obama’s roots had nothing to do with slavery. I found in the last weeks especially that most people are not really willing to talk politics in the south. It is considered impolite to discuss politics or religion in this country. There were no black people in the state park and you don’t see a lot of blacks in the restaurants or touristy places in the countryside of the south. When I was there it started to rain again and it stormed all the way past Roanoke Island and along the outer banks. I stopped finally and was dripping wet only by entering the office of the motel. I tried to walk along the beach but it stormed as much that I had to give up. The wind was whipping me with sand and there was ocean foam flying everywhere. I woke up in the morning to a flooded bathroom. The bathroom window was full of sand which drove water into the inside. I decided to stay and read a book. The weather is supposed to get a bit better tomorrow, but there will be no way to cycle. I still thing I will go further down south. I just regret that I had no opportunity to explore the islands here a bit more.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

1st to 3rd of November - Fontana Village, Smokey Mountains, NC

I drove from Athens through the foothills of Appalachia to the smokey mountains. This old couple which grew up here and stayed in the same Econo lodge in Athens than I told me not to go to Asheville and go to Townsend at the SMNP instead. Apparently they live there and they say that they see many cyclists especially at Cades Cove which is a high plateau with not a lot of traffic. But I missed the right turnoff and drove along a beautiful windy road which had quite a bit of motorbike traffic. When I hit a gas station to ask where I was, I got told that I was in North Carolina and apparently on the wrong side of the National Park. It was really beautiful here and so I kept going. After 10 more miles I hit a sign saying Fontana village resort. So I went up to the Lodge, which was on top of a hill with grand hall. huge fire place and a veranda with views over the flaming fall coloured mountains. I asked for a room and it was 59$. It came with a king size bed and an balcony to the mountain view. Most of the parking lot was filled with little two-seaters. There was a Crossfire owners convention going on and I learned that this car is German engineering with American styling. I have thought the whole time that this car exist already for longer but after researching it. It looks that the first model came out in 2004. My 2002 Subaru is a collector item compared to that.
Whatever I had in the late afternoon a beautiful ride along the river and in the evening a surprisingly good meal. This morning I left to finally go to the National Park and do the bike ride at Cades Cove. On my way I went through the most touristy indian reservation, that I have ever seen. Cherokee the main town had hundreds of gift shops with native American items made in Asia and not even India to throw people off. Entering in the Park I saw that the blue ridge parkway, a road which follows the Appalachians for 468 miles was closed due to icy conditions. So I went to the nearby visitor center and asked whether I could cycle up there and they said: Well I guess that's possible but be careful of ice in the tunnels. So I climbed a 7% accent until I reached the top after 700 vertical meters at big witch gap and than I turned back and just rolled all the way back down with absolute certainty that no car would come. It was a dream and I was so happy, just one of the best bike rides ever.
In order to go back home to Fontana I wanted to make the loop along Cades cove and a little unpaved one way road down to the devils tail. The whole park was choked by cars. I had read about that in Bill Brysons Appalachian Trail book but forgotten all about it. Cades cove was stop and go for hours. I got overtaken by fat pedestrians! I was pretty happy that I had audio books with me. It is just so much better to listen to a book while driving than just obsessing about not moving and wasting time which could be used for much nicer things. But the worst and weirdest thing was yet to come. By the Way: never take your road bike there the road is riddled with potholes and there is barely space to pass the trucks. Coming finally to the turn off for the little unpaved road back I had a very slow moving Jeep in front of me and when I tried to overtake him he (Considering the obnoxiousness I assume it was a man but I did not see the driver due to dark tinted windows.) wouldn't let me. I am pretty sure in Tennessee they have the slower cars use turnouts rule as well. But I had to stay behind him a crawl in the first gear. So I stopped took some photos and waited for him to advance a bit. than I went back in the car and drove leisurely further until I hit him again and repeated the game. After several miles of stop and go a car came from behind me and I left again after a quarter mile there was a young tree blocking the road and I and the four guys from the car behind me got out to remove it. I told them that there is a very slow and aggressive guy in front of me and that he had obviously pulled the tree on the road, we went head shaking back into our cars only to hit 300 meter further two more huge branches blocking the road. And after going nicely for another 10 minutes we met Mister IamslowbutIcanputtreesontheroad and had to stay behind him until the end of the road and because he was so slow I had to drive quite a time in the dark to reach the hotel. By than I was really cranky and hungry and the day which began so perfectly was pretty much ruined. I wanted originally stay another night out here, but now I think I will go fast through North Carolina, perhaps stay election night in Raleigh or some other city and hit the coast soon. We will see.