To Panama City Beach 134km
To Fort Walton Beach 105km
According to my new mate "Bill Bytheway", second cousin to my young cycling buddy Charles Brandt Bytheway, "the USA is in trouble." One of the big problems is that "it is impolite to talk of politics" with anyone other than very close friends or family, so no one discusses their real thoughts. At the moment, in the USA, there is a huge debate about "transgender toilets in schools."We should be debating about which idiot is going into the Whitehouse, not who goes to what restroom...." "And the Bible Belt..... Oh boy. Their number plates tell it all... In God we Trust..... Well I'm a Christian, but these people need to pull their heads out of the sand(bibles), and get real. If Trump gets into office, I'm going to hide in the woods, behind a big bush, and pray....."
Yep, the educated are worried. How many times have I been asked about emigrating to NZ? Lots. And they're serious. But, if you look around, everyone seems oblivious, unworried. As if, if they ignore the elephant, it will disappear. But will it?
So I reluctantly cycled away from my family nest in Tallahassee. Lilly and Ritchie advised me on a route that headed south to the coast, and it was lovely. 40km of cycling along a rail trail, through beautiful forest, then onto 98, all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and the beaches. Yeha. Something to look at. I see Pelicans, and Porpoises, and the log of wood on the road, turned and sort of hissed at me, before waddling off. My first in the wild crocodile, 1.5m. (Hmmmm. I was going to camp tonight....) I find a cool "Mom N Pop" Diner, with faux palm trees, real sodas, real jukebox, tall bar stools, small booths, fantastic soup, sandwiches, OJ, and icecream, but no waitresses on skates. And I feast. And I end up camping, on a beach. No crocs.......
The next day is more of the same, but 98 cuts across a peninsula, and suddenly I'm being assaulted by super jets. This is "Top Gun " country. Some of USA's largest Airforce bases, and lots of bright young boys and girls, playing with the world's most expensive toys. Take offs, landings, scream pasts. The air is full of very noisy, very fast war planes. My goodness. How many jets do you need? Alot, apparently. And they all need to be in the air at once. And they all need to be at full throttle, and flying really low, and in pairs, so the second one scares you just as much as the first, but before you've recovered from the first scare. If only a fraction of the budget spent on the number of war planes I saw today, was spent on kids education, there would be some very bright cookies in this country......
Then I hit Panama City. No not another country. Within a couple of hours I also cycled through Mexico City, and Bahama City. This is Florida's "forgotten coast ", and although the beaches are pretty, the rest is pretty tacky. USA resorts at their worst. Hotels and apartments right up to the beach. Access to lots of the beach is private. And behind the hotels? Wide, busy streets, lined with mini golf, ferris wheels, roller coasters, mini race car tracks, junk food outlets, and $1 shops.
And for the first time in the USA, I'm turned away from a fire station... Apparently there are lots of "bums" on the streets, looking for places to sleep. Instead, I'm sent to a "Mission". Here I can register, get a meal, and sleep for free. But, I can't have a shower until after dinner, I must attend a church service, I must not leave the premises after 6pm, I can not retire to my room, because I havent got one, and I'm not really comfortable about how secure my stuff will be overnight. What I've been enjoying at fire stations, is the company, the chats, the comraderie, the sharing of stories. Here, no one talks. Everyone has their own problem, drugs, homeless, bankrupt, alcoholic, or domestic, and they're not sharing. To be honest, I'm very uncomfortable in this atmosphere, and after a couple of hours, still unwashed, decide to move on. There are no campsites, this is resort central, so for the first time in the USA, I sleep in a Motel.
The further west I go, the less tacky the resorts. In fact, some parts are actually really nice. One area of about 40km has a cycle path along the main road, and it's full of families on bikes. Cruisers, trainer wheels, city fold up bikes, skaters, boarders. It's busy. But the buildings are less oppressive, and you can actually see the sea, although access is still not easy. I stop and taste my first frozen custard cone.....Yummy. I do find a spot where I'm prepared to lock Fiona and sneak down to the white sand. The water is almost blood temperature, but it's clear blue, and refreshing. It would be nice to hang out for a bit, but I can't see Fiona and my gear.....
So I ride on. Everyone seems very relaxed, and is enjoying their holiday. No one seems worried. It's only the "rest of the world" that's saying "WTF USA?"