09
Nov
08

Entering Alabama

Lying here alone as the sun sets, surrounded by sparse dry pines, with the hollow cawing of crows and the distant mooing of cows, its difficult to fight the overwhelming feeling of anxiety that has overcome me.  Knowing that I have left behind everyone that I love, especially the loving home which I’ve shared with Jason, Serap & Mavi for the past four years, has filled me with an insipid feeling of loneliness.  On top of that, the first leg of my route which I had mapped out to New Orleans had one fatal flaw.  Unfortunately I made the mistake of not consulting a topographical map, and what I had hoped would be a mild, and welcoming breaking in period for the journey turned into an arduous uphill climb through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.  Endless slaloms of steep uphill climbs lay around every corner once I began my ride this morning.

    Yesterday I had began my ride in the mid-afternoon, upon finalizing the details of my departure and a tear-filled farewell to those who I had shared so much of my life with over the past few years.  I pedaled steadily towards the Alabama border, but as the shadows quickly grew longer I realized that this was would be an unattainable goal before nightfall and that I should quickly search for a place to stop and set up camp.  But this was easier said than done.

    Yet another thirty minutes lay before me until I finally managed to find a patch of woods off the main road which was either unfenced or did not have a building on the property.  I discreetly road some way back down a dirt track into the woods and then dismounted to pull my bike with me into the forest.  After a short walk, I found a suitable clearing and began to unpack my equipment to set up camp.  Unfortunately, this was no easy task, as everything within my panniers was stacked atop one another, forcing me to unpack almost everything in order to get to those items which I needed.

    Eventually, I managed to unpack the stove and pots and soon thereafter had begun boiling water for my dinner.  The sounds of the night creatures surrounding me had grown to a loud but soothing orchestra as I erected my tent, blew up the sleeping pad, and spread out my sleeping bag.  By this time the sun had almost completely set and I returned to my boiling water in the darkness to begin cooking pasta.  It was quite a chore to continue cooking in the almost inky blackness beneath the canopy of night as well as to pack away my gear for the evening.  The temperature had also dropped rapidly, and once the pasta was done, I ate quickly and immediately retired to my sleeping bag for it’s warmth.  Feeling an overwhelming exhaustion, I almost immediately fell asleep – the earliest I’ve been to sleep in years.  The main lesson for the day was to next time stop to set up camp sooner.

    The next morning I awoke to the sound of a constant stream of cars in the not too far off distance and to bone chilling cold.  I reached out of the warm sleeping bag to consult my thermometer – 34 degrees, hmm, I thought this sleeping bag was supposed to be rated to 15 degrees?  Apparently not, as my feet were almost completely numb, and I was wearing socks.  Deciding that it was too cold to get up and get ready to ride, I pulled myself deeper into the bag and attempted to curl up for warmth.

    After finally resigning myself to the fact that hoping for warmth was futile, I finally got out into the dismal cold and hurriedly began to dismantle my camp site, although all I could think about was my icy toes!  After what seemed like an exorbitantly long time, I finally finished getting ready, as well as more efficiently packing my bags for the next evening.  I set off on my ride hoping that soon my pedaling would restore circulation to my poor feet.

    The ride began comfortably enough, but as I passed Newnan, Georgia and headed towards Roanoke, Alabama, the road seemed to rise ominously above me.  I pushed onward nonetheless, but after several hours of this torture I finally realized that this was no mere range of hills but the Appalachians.  I continued for miles, stopping in Franklin, Georgia for lunch at an old-timey Southern Restaurant on the square, and had fried pork chops with fried okra and slaw (and it was amazing to see that menu prices were about half what they would be back in the city).  I left lunch hoping to feel refreshed and ready for more, but after several more massive hills I stopped to consult my map.  I realized that going on westward mean continuing through the mountains and decided that South was the way to go.  Unfortunately, the next southward state road wasn’t until Roanoke, 15 miles away.

    After what seemed like an eternity (at least to my sore thighs, aching rear, and compressed palms), and after passing slews of staring farm animals and barking dogs, I finally descended into Roanoke.  I stopped for a quick bite and then joyfully headed South toward Opelika, Alabama.  Almost instantly and to my great satisfaction, the roads began to flatten out and I pedaled along in relief.  However, the damage from the earlier riding was already done and I felt the need to stop for the day and set up camp.  About a quarter of the way to Opelika I found an unmarked stretch of pines and quickly darted out of sight and into the underbrush.  

    It was about five o’clock and the warm sun was casting bright patches through the woods.  I prepared my camp-site and this time not only had enough time to do so, but also the lessons from the night before to guide me.  Now, after some light afternoon reading, here I lie, listening to the softly rising sound of crickets in the distant underbrush.  I haven’t had much of a signal on my cell phone since I entered Alabama and unfortunately, when I asked about internet connection and a coffee shop in Roanoke, the clerk at the store almost had to hold back a laugh as they told me the nearest coffee shop was in LaGrange, almost 20 miles away.  So anyway, I guess I’ll keep looking tomorrow!

    Again the cold is falling quickly.  Hopefully I can get a solid night of sleep tonight and begin my ride again tomorrow with renewed vigor and make better progress towards the south and hopefully warmer, more comfortable nights.

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