Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Sunshine State

January 25th, 2012

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Florida had a neatness that’d been mostly lacking in the poorer Southern States of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Home, I’d been told, of Seaside, setting for the flawless world of Jim Carey’s The Truman Show. I’d taken few photos since leaving Texas, simply because there wasn’t much to catch my eye. Or the camera would have drawn unwelcome attention. Wrong part of town.

I’d spent my first night in Florida down in the naval town of Pensacola. Staying with Ray and Donna. Eclectic contents gave their home character. Collectors rather than hoarders, with something of an underlying nautical theme. Small model sail boats in the bathroom.

They’d warned me I’d soon hit hills. Well known simply because they were the only ones in the entire State. Just my luck. But, in practice, they’d not been too bad at all. Kept me warm, for Sunshine State it might be, cold it certainly was. Following Highway 90 north east towards Milton had been tedious, small shoulder and frequently inconsiderate traffic. I’d noticed the town of Bagdad a short distance to the south, on the banks of the Blackwater river. Wondering if this was merely coincidence – the latter being a private military company with a tarnished reputation in Iraq.

The afternoon was warmer, winter gloves returned to the panniers, with quieter roads for much of the way to Crestview and a stop for the night. And the discovery my can of WD40 had discharged much of its contents into one of my bags. Deep joy.

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On the Blackwater trail

January 25th, 2012

Funny thing coincidences. East of Pensacola. Small town of Bagdad. Close by the Blackwater river. Also the name of a errr… controversial security company that’s been under quite a bit of scrutiny for its activities in Iraq. Probably nothing in it….

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Sketchy departure

January 24th, 2012

Simple plan. Of sorts. Across Alabama Bay then pick up Highway 90 back to the coast at Pensacola. And into Florida. Save for the exit from Mobile, and the final section, I’d no map. Reliant instead on a rough sketch I’d made of the route in my pocket book. Penned an outline, annotated with a few major intersections and one town – Loxley – to serve as headmarks.

Except I’d overlooked the need for a bit of a detour through north Mobile to reach the causeway across the bay. Bicycles prohibited from using the more direct tunnel route. Obliged instead to ride through Alabama State Docks. Numerous rail tracks. Scrap yards. A wrong turn. Tedious.

Beyond the bay progress had picked up. Long straight stretch of highway, rolling far into the distance. Then Loxley. Lunch stop and chance to assess progress. I’d forty or so miles to go, and just over three hours of daylight left.

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Goodbye Sweet Home Alabama

January 24th, 2012

Ken says goodbye to Sweet Home Alabama. Heading into Florida, the Sunshine State…

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Frustrations

January 23rd, 2012

I disliked Mobile. A few wide leafy boulevards. Smart Convention Centre. Well-kept. But surprisingly arrogant drivers. Two spotty young men in a pick-up shouting abuse. Tooting on the horn. All talk but no trousers. Children on a school bus tossing an apple out the window at me. Poor anticipation by other road users of my presence – tens of yards – amongst the worst I’ve ever seen. Hassled for directions by another motorist whilst clearly engrossed in conversation on my cell.

Seeking a short break from the frustrations of the road, I’d stopped at a gas station and ordered a freshly made sub. Clearly enunciated what I wanted. Slowly. But the sandwich artist wasn’t listening, too busy swapping tittle-tattle with her co-workers. Even when I repeated it, albeit with a few teasing changes. Live squid with petroleum jelly on Sourdough. Outside I sat watching cars come and go from the disabled bay. Profiling the occupants. Little evidence of physical impairment.

I’d left Dauphin Island after an early lunch. GulfView Cafe down on the golf course. One of just two such establishments open. And I’d visited the other the previous day. Bright day but strong winds. I’d waited to see if they’d subside a bit. Forlorn hope the ferry might run. But it hadn’t. Few oil rigs out in the bay. Gulf of Mexico. Some just miles away, others dots in the distance.

Retracing my steps off the island across the causeway hadn’t been as bad as I thought it might have been. Windy, but steady and on the port bow rather than the perfect cross wind I’d feared. Blowing across the carriage way afforded me some protection, and meant I’d not be pushed into the traffic if caught unawares.

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Deja vu… again

January 23rd, 2012

Ken’s back at Alabama Port. Less than forty eight hours since he’d passed through on his way to Dauphin Island and an aborted attempt at a ferry along the coast.

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Upwardly Mobile

January 23rd, 2012

Three options scribbled in my pocket book. Run north, back over the exposed causeway from Dauphin Island, through the city of Mobile and around Alabama Bay to Pensacola. Or wait for the winds to drop and the ferry across the mouth to start running once more. Reaching Pensacola the same day, or stopping short at Gulf Shores. Dependant on daylight.

Quick check with the ferry company ruled out the last two options. They’d not be running today. And the forecast didn’t bode well for the next day. Safer option was to head for Mobile. Night there, then on to Pensacola the following morning. Little shy of one hundred miles.

I’d pondered riding for Pensacola in a single day but decided against it. I’d struggle to complete in daylight, even if conditions were good. Which wasn’t the case. Winds of around twenty five miles per hour, compounded by being from West-South-West – perfect crosswinds on the causeway. If I needed to walk in places, so be it.

So I settled on two days around Alabama Bay and on to Pensacola. Forty miles or so to Mobile, then a further sixty the next day. A relatively short run north to Mobile had the advantage of a delayed departure from Dauphin Island and the chance to exploit the predicted afternoon drop in wind strength. It might not be much, but it could be just enough.

I reflected a while on the plan. It’d work of course. And it was the only realistic option. Kicking myself a little for not having headed for Mobile in the first place, rather than dropping down to Dauphin Island. But it’d seemed a sensible move at the time. Spilt milk. Costing me two days and consuming much of my margin for reaching Miami and a flight back to the UK. Felt comfortable I could stick to the schedule, but I’d need to be pretty slick with packing up my trusty steed and all the kit. Lots of strong coffee.

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Island bound

January 22nd, 2012

Tasty alternative to tuna I’d said. Smiling. She appeared unimpressed. I’d asked what Catch-of-the-Day was. Mahi Mahi. What was it, I’d asked. Dolphin. Subsequently adding it was the fish, not the mammal. Sounded good, I said. And it came with fries I thought looked a lot like proper chips. Thick. Crinkle cut. Lightly salted.

I was stuck. Dauphin Island. High winds preventing the ferry across Alabama Bay to Fort Morgan from sailing. Retracing my steps over the causeway and heading inland around the bay would cost a hundred miles or so. No choice but to wait it out. For now.

The island was largely deserted. Out of season. Small supermarket, couple of gas stations and a seafood cafe the hub of the community. Steady rain but warm. Dreary rather than depressing. Left pondering what I’d do the next day. Winds gradually increasing.

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Dauphin Island

January 21st, 2012

Ken heads for Dauphin Island. Lots of water but not the Atlantic. Yet. But getting closer…

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Oar House

January 21st, 2012

Just past the ’oar house I thought she’d said. Brief pause. Asked her to spell it. O-A-R, she replied, quickly adding that it was a restaurant. I was relieved. In all probability I’d spent the odd night in one of those places, quite by accident. Question of mistaken identity. Cheap hotel. But I’d told my Mum all about it. The story even featuring in the latest edition of Adventure Travel Magazine. So no chance of blackmail.

I’d crossed into Alabama earlier in the day. Brief foray, planning to reach Florida roughly twenty four hours later. Humid. Not oppressive, just a bit clammy. But unexpected. Memories of northern Australia. I’d half planned to stop for lunch at Grand Bay but found it uninspiring. On to Bayou La Batre. Brief late afternoon visit to Subway. Then push over the causeway to Dauphin Island before dark. Calling ahead for directions.

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