- New novel continuing Days of Lead.
- Memoirs (sea stories, non-fiction stories).
There may be more responses coming in, which might break the tie. Meanwhile the trip resumes, not in the middle of the year, but back in January. I have saved this travel report while Days of Lead ran its course. It’s not fair to interrupt a serial novel.
On the 18th of January, I laid out my kit. On the 22nd, I packed out the bike and rode out to Fluvanna County, east of Charlottesville. My friend Matt Butterman gave me a lift to Richmond, where I boarded the Silver Star with my bicycle, bound for Miami. I love long-haul train rides: I can write in the sleeper cabin surrounded by everything I need as the scenery slides by. The North-South trains have WiFi. Meals are included, and the food is not bad. One meets interesting people in the dining car.
To my dismay, I learned the difference between the Silver Meteor and the Silver Star, which both run to Miami. The staff in the club car called them “the Silver Meateor, and the Silver Starve.” No dining service. Next time, I’ll pay more attention to the little icons on the schedule and remember the mnemonic.
In Miami, I met some of my high school classmates. Call it our ad hoc 54th Reunion. Although we went to school in Rome, Italy, more of us live in Florida today than anywhere else, plus Miami is easy to get to.
We had a great time trading stories, touring around and catching up on classmates present and absent.
I left Casa Lester on Monday, 28 January, loaded for a ride up the East Coast. Rather than follow the regular bike routes (Adventure Cycling, East Coast Greenway, etc.), I planned to stay as close to the Atlantic Ocean as I physically could. I expected headwinds and rain for most of the trip, it being the dead of winter, but I also wanted flat terrain to build up my legs after being off the bike for most of the preceding year.
The metro carried me over the Miami rush hour. Soon, I was riding easily to Dania Beach along the A1A, which runs along the beach from Miami to the Georgia border. A gentle southerly wind pushed me along, and I could not help singing “On the Road Again” as I pedaled along. The Sheridan Hostel provided a clean bunk and off-street parking for the bike.
Tuesday, smooth roads and tailwinds blessed me again. A light cloud cover kept the sun from burning, but rain did not threaten. I easily found my way into a tidy neighborhood of Boca Raton, for the first of several WarmShowers stays. Vance and Tommie Wingfield set the bar very high for other hosts. Imagine having the Mercedes parked outside so the bikes could park in the garage! A comfortable room and a pleasant evening at the local pizzeria.
The wind came around to the northeast on Wednesday, and the clouds thickened as I rode north on the A1A. The barrier islands were densely built up, but traffic was very light, with only locals and snowbirds driving around. The A1A ran out at Juno Ridge and Juno Beach. I joined the traffic on US 1 to ride along the coast. I could see Jupiter Island across the Intracoastal Waterway. It belongs to the Nature Conservancy now and has no paved roads.
Luck was with me as I pitched my tent in the Jonathan Dickinson State Park across US 1 from the water. As the wind increased, I expected rain, but I was able to cook my supper (tuna on Seeds of Change rice) in the lee of the vending machine building. The rain was limited to some unenthusiastic sputtering, which dried off well before morning.
The rest of the rain arrived Thursday morning, just as I got everything packed up and headed back to US 1 from the Pine Grove Campground in the park. I rode the length of Hutchinson Island on a broad reach with an easterly crosswind. Water dribbled off my Arc’teryx jacket, but it was warm, so I did not mind. There wasn’t much to see, because the private homes behind walls blocked the ocean and the waterway from view. I had not expected much scenery; I felt almost elated to come across small natural areas with nothing on them but sand dunes and sea grass. I had chosen this route to see the sea, after all.
The Hutchinson Island Plaza and Suites was a welcome stop after 65 km on the bike. That wasn’t very far, but it felt good for being only my third day. I treated myself to a seafood dinner at The Edge restaurant next door, between rain showers.
The ride on Friday held a special treat: a stop at the UDT/SEAL Museum on North Hutchinson Island. I had this place on a mini-bucket list, having translated books and articles about frogmen and World War II underwater assault teams over the years. I was surprised to learn that Rear Admiral Draper Kaufman was the father of the Navy Frogmen. I knew him as an unassuming man who did not bring attention to himself; he was a hero in this building. The role of the Italian mezzi d’assalto subacqueo (MAS) figured in the exhibits, too, which pleased me. Much of what became the SEALs later came from MAS personnel who trained the American frogmen at Fort Pierce.
The wind blew rain in my face, but not too hard, as I left the Museum and rode up the island. As on its southern sister, the villas on North Hutchinson Island obscured the Atlantic Ocean, giving a monotonous sameness to the ride until I reached Sebastian Inlet State Park just south of Melbourne. I’m sure the motorists never noticed, because they did not spend as much time surrounded by walls as I did.
Staying with Warmshowers hosts John and Mary Pinizzotto that night was a special treat. They belong to a pair of big, lovable and friendly Newfoundland dogs. After the usual sniffing of hands, feet and other parts, they ignored me, except that Daisy would come over once in a while to kiss me with a big lick. Mary cooked a fantastic supper. Robert put my bike on his bike rack and lent me a spoke wrench to tighten a couple of spokes. He also noticed wear on my rear tire and gave me directions to a reliable bike shop on my way.
Saturday, the rain resumed as I rode up the A1A in a crosswind. I got the bike checked at Bob’s Beach Bicycle Works. We determined that I could make my way north for a while with the tire.
Riding past Cape Canaveral and Patrick Air Force Base brought back memories of the Southern Swing 2013, where I met Daniel when his cruise ship made a short stop (to let families take a tour to Disney World).
Chris and Tracy McElvey (and new driver, Tray) provided just the kind of respite I needed after three days of rain. They gladly extended my stay a day, so that I could let my shoes dry, relax and catch up on the work I could not get done that week. The private room was quiet, dark and comfortable, and it had a workstation table and chair, so that I could work on my computer instead of my phone. Their neighborhood consists of a series of artificial inlets on the north side of the island, so that everyone has a boat slip and access to the Banana River and the Inland Waterway. We watched the Super Bowl on their big TV.
The A1A ended in Cocoa, because the Cape Canaveral National Seashore was a dead end. A short ride from Merritt Island got me to Ezra Hilyer’s home in Port St. John. Although I was one of his first Warmshowers guests, I found that he was a natural at hosting. We enjoyed the evening very much.
It was 74 km to New Smyrna Beach on US 1. I wanted to avoid staying in Daytona, remembering how crowded it was in 2013 (I rode through during the Daytona 500). Kirk Stivers generously accommodated me on short notice. He told me to set up even if he wasn’t home, but I’m glad he was there, because I enjoyed the tour of his property and learning about the projects he is working on. He had built almost everything on the site. It felt like camping in a nature preserve, except that there was a warm shower outside. I liked the platform that he had me camp on. The corrugated roof on the shelter kept the dew off my tent, so it was dry when I broke camp the next morning.
I need not have worried about Daytona Beach. It was off season, although there was more traffic than I had seen since Boca Raton. I picked up the A1A there. The wind shifted to the south, pushing me along for 108 km. Nine days into my tour, I was confident that I had recovered completely. After I returned to Charlottesville, I could practice hill-climbing.
The rain returned leaving Saint Augustine. It was only 60 km to Neptune Beach, where Ryan and Amy Tillotson hosted me. They were a big surprise. Ryan’s brother, Scott, met me and got me settled. When Ryan and Amy arrived, I found out that he was a retired blackshoe, too. That’s a Surface Warfare Officer, meaning that he actually drove ships. He had commanded the new USS The Sullivans. My father had served in the original The Sullivans, and Ryan had made a point of gathering the two crews for reunions. He also served a tour in Bahrain with the successor to the Middle East Force, with which I had served.
They put me up for two nights. Besides swapping sea stories with this Ancient Mariner, they were a wealth of information about routes and conditions up the road. Laundry, comfy private room and new good friends: what more could I want? I hated to leave, and I hope that our paths cross again.
Two weeks after bidding Gio and Alan good-bye, I knew that I could handle long-distance touring again. I had pushed more than 100 km against headwinds and rain, and I felt good. I left Neptune Beach on the 10th of February and made my way around the Mayport Naval Station to the ferry across the Saint Johns River. At the end of the A1A on Amelia Island, I took a final look at the Atlantic and turned inland on FL 200 to the town of Yulee. US 17 led me to the Georgia border. After the quiet ride along the beach, I did not enjoy riding on the shoulder of a major highway in Northern Florida. Curiously, both Florida and Georgia had signed this part of US 17 as a named bike route and part of the East Coast Greenway.
I crossed into Georgia and made my way to the Kings Bay Naval Base, home of the Navy’s missile submarine fleet. I would miss Florida. Even in the winter, the rain was not cold until the last day, and more often than not, it was sunny. The roads were smooth, and the food was plentiful and easy to find.
Until next time,
Smooth roads and tailwinds,