There is something about the sight of panniers and worn-in cycling gloves that doesn’t go unnoticed by other cyclists. The spent expression on a touring cyclist’s face is a face we know. We know the pain, the sweat, and the joy of traveling hundreds of miles on a bike that becomes your home.
The last tour I rode began on the 1st of April, 2015, beginning in Tampa, Florida and ending in New Orleans. The plan was to leave my life in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and see where the road took me. I packed up the few things I had and drove to my family’s home in Clearwater, Florida to meet up with Kyle, my tour partner. Kyle and I talked a lot about goals and expectations from the trip and from each other. Ultimately we wanted to never be in a rush. No set timeframes.
On our tour we usually stealth camped. The first night we set up near an electric power plant. The second, on the Suwannee river. The night on the Suwannee started with us attempting to cook on our little gas stove. The package of soup we had was incredibly salty, so we resorted to eating cliff bars. Food was often tricky. Sometimes we would just end up at a Waffle House eating plates of eggs.
In the beginning we were concerned about how sweaty our clothes were, so we washed our clothing in the Suwannee then hung them to dry on a bridge. I set my hammock on a small peninsula in between two sturdy trees. The spot was narrow to the point where it was a twenty foot drop off on both sides of my hammock. Essentially I was hanging over the river. Kyle set up his tent not too far away on a solid spot of flat land.
We went to bed early due to tired legs and possibly pure exhaustion. In the middle of the night there was a loud rustling in the leaves. I froze. After a few moments, Kyle whispered, “Is that you?”. I whisper screamed, “No!” He whisper screamed back, “Shit I’m naked!” We Went back and forth whisper screaming as to what it could be- all the while I was thinking it was a backwoods serial killer about to murder naked Kyle in his tent while I was hidden in the trees. Kyle thought it was a large predatory cat also going to murder him while I safely dangled high above the river. After about ten minutes we decided it was a curious raccoon.
In The Middle Of A Strange Place It's So Easy To Let Your Imagination Get The Best Of You.
The next morning I woke up before the river. The sun was just starting to rise while a large mountain of fog rolled downstream. I made a cup of instant coffee and laid in my hammock listening to birds being increasingly vocal.
It was so beautiful taking in that morning. Kyle was still asleep so I was able to wander around in silence, letting all thoughts soak in. It was that morning that it hit me: my tour had begun.
The amount of support from the biking community was a welcome surprise.
In a small fishing town off the Gulf of Mexico we stopped for beers at an outdoor seafood bar and grill. Throughout the evening we became friends with the owner’s son, Gavin. Kyle sung open mic and seemingly everyone in the place bought us a beer. People were so incredibly welcoming. Gavin had once taken a tour from California to the middle of Utah, so he was extra attentive to our needs as cyclists.
He offered for us to sleep on the stage, along with an extra hammock for Kyle. After the place closed we set up bunk bed hammocks. Gavin made sure we were comfortable and gave us a huge ice bucket of beer.
After everyone left, Kyle and I just laid on the stage, drinking beers and smiling until we got in our hammocks and passed out. The sound of seagulls and the restaurant staff setting up woke us the next day.
A similar act of kindness happened during a rainstorm. That day, a black cloud slowly crept towards us while on the road. Once it reached us, we took shelter under a covered Starbucks patio, where a young lady, Bethany- with what looked like a Padawan braid- told us about a tour she went on the previous year. We were having trouble finding covered camp spots within our budget, so she welcomed us to her home. That night we started a small rock band and talked about being twenty-somethings. It was so refreshing to meet a fellow female cyclist, especially one I connected with so deeply. The next morning she told us the best way out of town as we all inhaled plates of eggs at Waffle House. Right before we rode off, she gave me a bag of dried lavender for good luck.
There was a night, on St. George Island, that all our camping plans failed. So in a fit of irritation, we walked west trying to think of a plan. We ended up stashing our bikes in an area of trees, and took our sleeping bags down to the beach to sleep in the dunes.
As a mist of rain sprinkled on us, the lyrics to a song called ‘Old Pine’ by Ben Howard played in my head.
“COLD SAND IN SLEEPING BAGS, I’VE COME TO KNOW THAT MEMORIES WERE THE BEST THINGS YOU EVER HAD.”
I took my phone out of my bag and played it for Kyle. We fell asleep happy that night in the light sprinkle, then woke up to the lull of seagulls and soft roar of the Gulf.
Throughout the tour I often tried to remind myself that the worst times can become the best memories.
Patience is a talented photographer and storyteller, whose story above shares her experience of being hit with that desire to leave your life behind for a new experience. In spring of 2016 she left from Tennessee to meander across the country again by bike, the loose goal being to end up in the west. Patience is Route Feminent's first sponsored rider, and will be sharing more photos and stories from her current adventure here. In the meantime, by all means blow up her instagram and tumblr.