Be Brave, Be Strong, Be Kind
Riding Day 38 – 45.83 miles
The final push had arrived, and the team was up early. The Bob was stoked, Odie was beyond ready, and me…I was feeling a little weird. I’d already topped-off Hank’s tires with fresh air and had propped him up against the picnic table in our campsite. I thought he looked a bit lost, but maybe that was me projecting how I was feeling with the end so near at hand. This was it, the culmination of some hairbrained plan conceived mostly on a whim some 15 months earlier that had actually worked, the idea that a 66-year-old guy with bad knees and a fake hip could pilot a 30-year-old tandem bicycle with a 59-year-old blind guy as his stoker, from Ocean Beach in San Diego, CA to Crescent Beach, FL, with more than a little help from a very good friend driving a 2005 Toyota van as a support vehicle. Crazy, implausible, impossible, yet there we were, a mere 43 or so miles from conquering The Southern Tier bicycle route. Standing there as the new day’s sun was just starting to warm the air and my weary bones, watching from afar as The Bob and Odie carried out their by now too-familiar morning routines, I was both giddy and sad…weird
The first 12 miles of this final day were ridden along perfection disguised as a 15’ wide bike path of the smoothest asphalt imaginable that traveled through a lush forest rife with bird calls, the rich hum of insects and the unfettered croaks of frogs. Beams of sunlight tunneled through the foliage here and there and created a jigsaw of light and dark as far as the eye could see. It felt like we were gliding through an enchanted forest, that maybe this was the real reason we’d sweat and toiled for so long, that all those miles through barren landscapes, and all the harrowing episodes we’d experienced had been placed in our way to provide us with the necessary context to recognize true beauty when we came upon it. But of course, nothing good or bad lasts forever, and so as we began the 13th mile this enchanted path ended and we found ourselves yet again riding on a shoulder, albeit a good one, once more firmly ensconced in the world of humans and the infernal combustion engine
We had decided to make our beach landing about 7 miles south of Saint Augustine to avoid traffic and hopefully find a more peaceful setting. I made a wrong turn at one point but caught it early, and after our first break it became apparent that we’d probably finish around 1pm. It still didn’t seem real. Surely at the end of this day we’d still be looking for a place to camp and shower, just like we’d been doing for nearly 7 weeks, and then we’d get up the next day and get ready to ride, just like we always did. But instead, we already had reservations for a hotel in Jacksonville, The Bob had a plane ticket for the next day to fly home, and I’d already let my relatives know that Odie and I would be rolling into Des Moines, IA sometime on Tuesday. But still, knowing all of this, it didn’t seem real.
The last road we traveled on our way to the beach was State Highway 206, another good road, which seemed to be a normal occurrence in Florida…good roads, yes, but those drivers are, uhmmmm, mama always said, “if you can’t say something nice…” Anyway, about 2 miles from the finish I could smell the ocean, that thickening of the air with the scent of salt and sea critters permeating my nostrils and dropping the temps a few degrees. And that’s when it first hit me, the fact that we were finished, that we had in fact ridden a bike from one coast to the other, over mountains, through deserts, through insane city traffic, through swamps, into headwinds that could break your heart, torrential downpours, across shoulder-less roads filled with big rigs, through forests, alongside fields of wild flowers prettier than any city garden, through threadbare neighborhoods brimming with life, as well as soulless urban landscapes where the main goal seemed to be go aimlessly as fast as you can. The last mile we slowed and soaked it all in, fully aware that the people around us, a mix of tourists and locals walking and driving along the road that paralleled the beach, had no idea of how far we’d come or why we’d done it, but we knew…we’d tamed The Southern Tier and made it our friend.
When we found The Bob, he was waiting for us with cold beer and a warm smile. Odie and I climbed off Hank for the last time, and I screamed like a madman, because in that moment I was indeed a madman, so full of the essence of life and adventure that I’d have burst if I didn’t let it out. Odie, as is his nature, just stood quietly by the OREM, as if nothing of great import had happened at all, but of course I knew better.
After downing our beer, we rolled Hank down the road and onto the beach, a beautiful beach sparkling under blues skies that was being lapped by mellow waves, just as I’d envisioned. We met a kind soul named Carlos who took our picture, and upon hearing our story wanted to take a picture with us. We stood in the water and felt its warmth, our feet slowly sinking into golden sand, and I couldn’t stop grinning
After leaving the beach, we made our way to Jacksonville and checked into the hotel. The ride was over, each of us changed forever but still in possession of those better parts of who we had been at the start of our quest. The Bob was once again Bob, Odie was now Gary, and I was still Scott, the supposed mastermind of such folly. Hank had his tires removed and was placed inside of the OREM for a well-deserved rest, which might seem a bit sad for such a noble machine, but fear not, for his future remains bright as he’ll be donated to a group in San Diego called “Blind Stokers,” which pairs vision-impaired individuals with a Captain who will take them out into the world for a bike ride. As for the OREM, her work is far from over. Gary and I will be spending the next 10 days or so meandering across the country to his home in Coupville, WA, with a stop in Des Moines, IA to visit my sisters and their families. Bob is already home in Phoenix with his wife Suzy, perhaps sharing a tale or two about our exploits, exploits that would have been impossible without his steady hand on our tiller. Thank you, Bob, from the bottom of my heart. And to Suzy, Debra, Houston, Jeremy and Cory, the good and generous folks who opened their homes to us and provided sanctuary and so much more, thank you, and know that you have a lifetime invite to my home.
Tonight, Gary and I are camping near Chattanooga, TN, and it seems very weird that Bob isn’t here with us, making dinner and cracking us up with his quips and the occasional leprechaun dance. And to our fellow tribe members who are still out there…take it all in, every breath, every flower, ever whiff of fried food as you ride by, smile often and know that it will all be worth it when you get there. Be brave, be strong, be kind