To Maclenny Florida 83km
To Ellaville 113km
To Tallahassee 121km
I'm following the American Adventure Cycling Ass maps. They take me on quiet roads, with fantastic scenery. Often they feel too quiet, with long flats, and little traffic or anything else to distract me, and suddenly it's hot, very hot. I'm looking for people to talk to. I did meet a couple of Aussie cyclists, who for a couple of hours put up with my insistent yakking, and a couple in a Diner paid for my breakfast, just to shut me up, but otherwise I'm alone on the road.... and it's tough.
But then I met two huge men, father and son, the Sumner family, outside a Piggley Wiggley (a Southern Supermarket chain) and we got talking. Pretty soon I was sent off to meet Miss Libbey, the local newspaper reporter.....
The interview started well, but then.. "How far do you ride each day?" " About 60 to 70 miles, for 5 or 6 days then I take a rest day." "I hope that is on Sunday." " I never know what day it will be. I don't even know what day it is today." "But you need to rest on Sunday and worship the maker. What church do you go to?" "My church is the great outdoors." "Well who do you think made it so great and so beautiful..... God did. It didn't just happen you know... Do you have a bible?" "Nope." "You need to have one. Your destiny, and your salvation lie in the bible. I would give you mine, but it's best to have one in your native language. What is your native language?" "English." " Oh....." I'm not sure whether the article about my adventure will appear in the paper.....
I cycle into Madray Springs. There's no one at fire station. The lady in the shop rings someone, who rings someone else. Yes I can stay at the Fire Station. Great. I put my tent up, but then the Deputy Chief turns up, opens up the station for me. AC, shower, comfortable couch...... It's so comfortable, quiet and cool.... I sleep well past 7.30am......
Folkston Fire Station..... Terry the Chief...... I know about you...... fire departments all over the south have been alerted..... here is a medal.... here is a t-shirt. Help yourself to a shower, washing machine, cold drinks, Internet. ......Bring your bike inside. What you are doing is amazing. Prostate Cancer...... Anything.....anything you need, just holla, oh and I'm an All Blacks fan. Played Rugby for US Army all over the world..... I'm totally over welmed by the continuous generosity.
And then I turn right, west, towards California, and I get lucky. Friday evening, C Watch in Maclenny has a family meal night. Uncle Stan turns up with "a gallon of corn, a gallon of green beans, and a couple of gallons of home smoked chicken." Someone else brings macaroni cheese, and pork steaks. Kids, sisters, grandma's, wife's, fire crew and I, sit down to a massive feed...... and talk. After the excitement of a "crazy foreign cyclist", the talk turns to so many subjects...... I am so, so , privileged to share.
And a sort of "reverse inspiration" story. Matt is in his mid thirties and has been in the fire service for 10 years. He told me of being an ungrateful lazy kid, stealing from his parents to buy drugs. He became grossly overweight, and was "absolutely a taker", expecting everything given to him. Then at 27 years old his doctor told him his body was shutting down, he was going to die. At the same time, he saw his nephew achieving, training as a Firefighter. Matt switched his life around. He lost weight, lots of it. He trained and achieved Firefighter I, EMT, and then Firefighter II. He joined a volunteer unit, and began applying for permanent jobs. He saw fit, strong capable role models in the local brigades, and worked hard to improve his fitness, and eventually was offered a full time position. The guys he joined on shift had seen his progress, and now used him as inspiration. They all work very hard in the gym, to ensure they will always be able to be there for their buddies in an emergency on the fire scene. Pretty amazing story.
And they are working hard for others as well. Today they raised $2,500 for Muscular Dystrophy, and are now half way to their $10,000 target. And then I arrive in Tallahassee, 24 hours after Joe C has left..... bother. But I meet Lilly and Richie, and extended family, Mother, baby, roommate, and son, and loads of friends who turn up for a BBQ. What an amazing atmosphere. My mother will always tell you, that as a kid, I wanted the whole extended family to live in one house. Here I am, in exactly that situation, and I love it. I couldn't have been made more welcome, more at home, or more part of the furniture. What an awesome USA family experience. On top of that, I got to meet a bunch of mountainbikers who took me out for a ride on Memorial Day Holiday, and they are booking flights to NZ to join me on a Mtb tour in February or March. Who's coming?