TRAVELS WITH TOBY WEEK 8: 46 days on the road (and I’m gonna make it home tonight)

Thursday, April 21 – Day 41
Quincy to Shady Grove, Florida

Leaving Quincy on a cool Thursday morning, we pedaled through a number of small communities with plenty of wetlands in between before arriving in Tallahassee.

Toby Thorpe

With four sports fans on board, all who follow the ACC closely, the trip would not be satisfactory without a ride through the Florida State University campus, and a look at Doak Campbell Stadium.

So, upon entering the capital city, we ditched the ACA directions and consulted Google Maps, which led us to the destination flawlessly.

With graduation only a couple weeks away, numerous students were taking photos in front of the “Unconquered” sculpture, a statue of a Seminole warrior atop a stallion, spear in hand.

Cyclists Toby Thorpe, Mike Stanley and Earl McMahon are joined by RV driver Keith Holloway visit the Unconquered statue at Florida State University. The group conquered the bottom half of the United States in 46 days, traveling 2,730 miles along the way. (Contributed)

In doing so, we observed what is apparently a tradition for FSU seniors in which they pop the cork on a champagne bottle and spray its contents while being photographed doing so. Upon completion, the cork is deposited on the ground in front of the statue and left there.

From the looks of things, FSU will be graduating quite a few seniors this year.

After our FSU ride-through, it was time to get back on course and head for our end destination, which was intended to be Madison, about 40 miles up US 90 from Tallahassee. But miscommunication as to which one of us was navigating resulted in the three of us finding ourselves at a Sunoco gas station on US 27, significantly off course.

Once again, it was Keith to the rescue. We decided on a rendezvous point about halfway between where we were and where we were supposed to be, and he met us there for our next rest break, and later at a pleasant little community called Shady Grove where we ended our route for the day.

At the end, we had traveled 68 miles on a sunny and windy day. Despite having veered off course, we were blessed to have finished on smooth, low-traffic on a perfect afternoon.

Friday, April 22, Day 42
Rest Day

In addition to our usual rest-day chores, on this day we had to deal with an additional matter … our RV had sprung a leak … and not a drip-drip-drip leak either. This one was a pretty steady stream of water.

Fortunately, the water was clean and cold, meaning it was not coming from the radiator or from the waste tank.

Since the RV was a rental, we contacted the owner who called a repair service, and by mid-afternoon the vehicle and area underneath was once again dry. A faulty overflow valve on the fresh water tank had proven to be the culprit.

Saturday, April 23, Day 43
Shady Grove to Fort White, Florida

On Saturday morning we arrived back at Shady Grove well-rested, well-fed and dry, ready to pedal after our weekly day off. The course for this morning would take us south on US 221 to the city of Perry, where we would turn east and pass through Mayo and Branford before concluding our day at Fort White.

Pedaling down US 221 was a treat, as early morning traffic was nearly non-existent. Even Perry, a medium-sized city, seemed to be still sleeping as we passed through.

By the time we reached Mayo, however, things had changed. Mayo had a street festival going on, and for a small town (population 1,300), it appeared much larger.

After negotiating the traffic and pedestrians, we were able to grab a mid-ride break just east of town.

Branford sits on the eastern banks of the Suwannee River, immortalized in song by Stephen Foster. The river, quite wide and navigable for small craft, was teeming with sunbathers, boaters and fishermen, while the banks of the stream served as picnic grounds for several families. Mike, Earl and I stopped on the bridge for a couple photos before moving on.

The ride concluded on the Suwannee River Trail, a paved greenway running from Branford to Fort White. As always, pedaling without concern of distracted motorists was a great way to end a long day (73 miles) of pedaling.

Sunday, April 24, Day 44
Fort White to Florahome, Florida

Our next-to-last day took us from our starting point at Fort White to another sports venue as we passed by the University of Florida, but getting there was the best part of the journey.

With very little traffic on a Sunday morning, we were able to roll fairly quickly through several back roads as we approached Gainesville, where, once again, we varied from the ACA cycling route in order to see the campus.

Fortunately, we were able to stay on course upon completing our tour of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and were able to catch another greenway on the way to our end destination, a small crossroads called Florahome.

Most people, upon hearing the word, “Florida,” think immediately of beaches, sand and surf. But on this trip, I have been blessed to see parts of the state I never knew existed. Examples include high bluffs overlooking Escambia Bay at Pensacola, rolling hills in the state’s panhandle region and farm and pasture land in the state’s interior.

All these features are often overlooked in favor of the more tourist-oriented spots, but are well worth seeing, nonetheless.

Upon concluding the day’s pedal, we had drawn to within 48 miles of completing a journey that had started March 11, and which all of us, at some time, had wondered if we would be able to complete. Tomorrow would be a day for us to remember.

Monday, April 25, Day 45
Florahome to St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Hopping back onto the greenway at Florahome on Monday morning was a surreal experience. For nearly seven weeks we had been pedaling away, averaging 65 to 70 miles daily, taking a rest day every eighth day.

We had seldom discussed the end of the trip, but now that it was upon us, it seemed almost a surprise.

The first 15 miles of our trip was on greenway and was unbelievably smooth and mostly deserted. Except for one possum and one snake, we saw no other living creatures on the trail for the first 10 miles, although we did meet a couple of fellow cyclists near the trail’s eastern terminus.

At the trail’s end we picked up Florida Route 100 and pedaled into Palatka, located on the St. John’s River, where we took a break at the city’s riverfront park where, once again, boating and fishing were prime activities for those in the park.

Also at Palatka, we picked up the Palatka-St. Augustine Trail, which carried us traffic-free to the outskirts of the nation’s oldest city.

Entering St. Augustine, it was necessary again to share the road with motorists, but the city is very bike-friendly with marked bicycle lanes and wide streets. And, based on the fact that we encountered no disparaging remarks, it seemed the motorists there were accustomed to seeing cyclists as well.

Upon arrival at St. Augustine Beach, the three of us managed to lug our bicycles over the retaining wall separating the shore from the street. Not surprisingly, the sight of three guys in bicycle gear lugging road bikes on a sandy beach tends to draw a few questions, and more than a few strange looks.

But that was the least of our concerns as we ceremoniously dipped our front wheels into the Atlantic, just as we had dipped our rear wheels in the Pacific on March 11.

Then, unlike March 11, we shed our bike jerseys before diving into the ocean waves to celebrate.

Epilogue

I must admit that my anticipation of the end of our trip kept me awake much of the night before … kind of like a child on Christmas Eve.

As I lay awake thinking of what was to come, I couldn’t help but remember the night of March 11.

We were in Alpine, California after having completed our first day. We had only pedaled about 50 miles total, nearly all of which was a tough and challenging climb. All I could think of as I lay in bed with my legs throbbing was, “How in the world am I going to get through this?”

Forty-six days and 2,730 miles later, I must sincerely thank a number of people for helping me do just that..

First, thanks to the greatest person in my life, my wife of (almost) 42 years, Kathy. She didn’t have to agree to me being gone for this long, but she did.

My church family at North Albemarle Baptist has consistently provided encouragement and prayers. Our pastor, Jonathan Blaylock, had the idea to use the ride to draw attention to the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering. Gabby Hatley assisted me in setting up our Facebook page and showing me how to post updates.

In addition, a number of other churches followed our progress while using the ride to raise awareness and funds for the offering. It is my prayer that this effort will help lead someone (hopefully many) to salvation.

My fellow coast-to-coast cyclists, Mike Stanley and Earl McMahon, as well as our RV driver Keith Holloway kept me going. These are three of the most positive guys you will ever meet. They encourage others and work as a team. I’m honored to have had the privilege of riding with them. Please consider supporting the causes they represent as well — Crossnore Communities for Children (Mike) and Conquering CHD (Earl).

And thanks also to B.J. Drye and the staff at the Stanly News & Press for allowing me to share this trip with each of you.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed riding it.

Toby Thorpe is a retired parks and recreation director and a freelance writer for The Stanly News & Press. To donate to his fundraising effort (the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering – North American Missions Board), visit https://www.namb.net/give or www.northalbemarle.com/ways-to-give. Follow along as well using #pedaling4annie.

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