Monday, March 10, 2014
As I tarried down south, my neglected rigid project sat idle, the frame developing a coat of rust. So, with the engine hanging like a convicted horse thief, shrouded in mystery and greasy shop rags, I fabbed a small kickstand extension and wire-wheeled the frame back to bare metal. Then gave everything a coat of rattle-can primer to stop the bleeding. Not wishing to waste precious shop heat, I gave the 'Zuke a much needed oil change and sorted maintenance, hoping for some decent weather.
Friday, March 7, 2014
Wednesday, March 5, 2014
The Cold was still waiting for me when I got back home. This has been one long, cold, badass winter. Nighttime temps still in the single digits, but hope springs eternal. Unlike the ineffective sun of January, the sun of midday March shines in earnest. Snowmelt trickling icy liquid through the downspouts, the music of early spring.
Glad to be back I suppose. The walls of my tiny camper began to close in on me as I bounced from park to park moving northward. It became increasingly difficult to find weekend campsites as the warm weather brought the Panhandle locals out of their brief hibernation. One morning, as I sat in a crappy, Mississippi asphalt lot, prepared to wait out a couple more weeks, it occurred to me that I may as well return to my beloved Jerkwater, and wait it out there. It was a relatively quick drive up I-65, running the southern Indiana I-65 gauntlet without incident this time in cool, but sunny weather.
So, here I am back to the daily grind, but fortunate to have screwed off for a few weeks.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Old abandoned phone booth, some kind of green donor box*, overflowing trash can, R2D2 air compressor, inexplicable concrete cube, $5.47 smokes and huge three-month-old hard-as-rock snow piles can only mean one thing.
Back in Jerkwater, baby! Broke, sunburned, and looking forward to ten more inches of snow predicted for Sunday.
*That green clothing donation box in Jerkwater is like putting a tip jar in a homeless shelter.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
By mid-Monday morning all the locals had left, leaving me with the place to myself and a few park rangers who wave to me like I’m an inhabitant of the neighborhood.
The area I now inhabit is not the flat, sandy tropical place one might expect of Florida. The terrain is hilly with a mix of tall pines and hardwoods, more like The Smoky Mountains. The park’s only redeeming features are its hiking trails and an old plantation house the CCC dismantled and moved across the Apalachicola River back in the thirties, (as one who’s worked in the construction trade a long time, I find that incredible). With only one radio station, no TV reception and little else to do, I started hiking small sections of the trails at a time walking through the flat bottom land with its palmettos, swamps and standing water, then climbing the steep switchbacks, crawling uphill using tree roots for steps.
Sputnik, with terrier blood coursing through her veins, is a bundle of pent-up energy. She not only requires, but demands she get vigorous exercise every day. I could walk thirty miles with her and it would do her no good, she needs more than that or she drives me nuts. At my last stop I started to let her run beside my bicycle on lead. No matter how fast I rode, she always wanted to go faster, tongue lolling to the side, straining against her collar like a sled dog. I would finally quit pedaling and let her tow me along. She pulls way harder than should be physically possible for her twenty-four pounds. Fearing her neck would become bruised I bought her a harness to fulfill her insatiable need for strenuous activity. Since there are few places to ride the bike at this park, I decided to hook her to my belt with a d-ring and adopt her talent as a beast of burden to the hiking trails.
Yesterday, we walked about seven miles including the western loop of the Torreya trail, up and down steep hills, through longleaf pines and thick wooded jungle, (this place must be hell in the summer with heat and mosquitoes). I ran out of my two quarts of water and the hills kicked my old, flatlander ass. Today my legs and back are sore despite the fact that Sputnik towed me up the steepest hills, fulfilling her role, much like the Sherpa guide who short-ropes rich women up Everest. All in the name of vanity, so they can go home and tell all their rich friends they’ve summited.
Today I pack up once again, and move westward.
Monday, February 17, 2014
This place ain’t so bad when the sun comes out. Still a little chilly with highs in the sixties, but who am I to complain when the Midwest still suffers through single digits? Had the whole place virtually to myself during the week, some days I didn’t even see a park ranger. I spoke not a word for nearly three days as I find myself withdrawing deeper into my self-imposed exile. When I finally did meet a guy and his wife, come down from Virginia trailing his Russian sidecar rig to escape the cold, my voice cracked from lack of use when I tried to speak to them.
On the weekends however, my sleepy little hideaway transforms itself, filling up with locals. Raucous kids, hillbillies, ill-mannered dogs, hillbillies, loud shitty music screeching out of tinny speakers and hillbillies. I retreated deeper into my little sanctuary and endured. I’ve plenty of time to read and just finished, once again, Cormac McCarthy’s brilliant Border Trilogy. Incredible.
The park is known for its fifteen miles of trails. I’ve hiked a little using a broom handle as an improvised walking stick, may explore them further this week. Today I plan the one-hundred mile round trip to the nearest Wal-Mart. I need supplies, namely a proper hiking stick, beer and some toenail clippers.
The excitement never ends.
Friday, February 14, 2014
It was with some sadness I left the riverbank along the coast, but the hounds of discontent were nipping at my heels telling me it's time to move on. So move on I did, in a complete deluge, the little camper hydroplaning its way behind me like a drunken water-skier. Arrived at my desolate campsite near the Georgia / Alabama border. Thirty- eight degrees and in a steady rain, I set up my rig on a pathetic, soggy campsite, crawled inside, soaked and dispirited. Turned the heater up to 11 and shook off the shivers. Times like these I figure this beats the hell out of two wheels and a tent.
My smartphone screen has developed a noticeable wiggle and my toenails have become as the talons of a winged creature from Greek mythology. Sputnik affects a Pavlovian response when she senses the proximity to a state park entrance, sitting up tall in the saddle, ears erect and expectant.
I'm in the absolute center of nowhere. Fifty miles to the nearest Wal-Mart, I'm out of supplies and Central Standard Time is kicking my ass.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
Woke this morning to the patter of rain drizzling on the camper top, first grey light of dawn oozing through shaded windowglass. I lay there, warm and fetal. Slowly the sky brightened, sounds of birdcalls and a full bladder prompting me to emerge from my cotton and polyester womb.
I was fortunate enough to duck some ice and snow, leaving the panhandle for a quick sojourn into Southwest Florida, with its sunshine and near-perpetual warmth. That warmth comes with a price, however. Orlando and southward, with Mickey Mouse’s vicious rodent teeth smiling from the balconies of empty condos, and campgrounds filled to capacity with pale-skinned snowbirds, lined up like tin-canned pickled herrings in their $250,000 mega-campers. Come south for the sun, yet living in the white trash squalor in what could pass for a Tennessee trailer park. I lived among them only long enough to move on and visit the Sea Captain and his longsuffering wife who spends her afternoons on the Widow’s Walk waiting for the ancient mariner’s return from the sea.
I’m now back in the Panhandle, laid back and less crowded. Don’t need 80 degree days and I’ll take the 40 degree nights. Feels like home.
The more time I spend “away” the more the lines used to define the concept of “home” become blurred. Is it that place back in Jerkwater with its possessions and complications, property taxes and phone calls? Or is it the space I’m currently occupying? Right now, the sandy soil of the Ochlockonee River feels like “home.”
Modern Man, with our appetite for material things and compulsion to run the pointless hamster wheel of “success” become trapped behind walls of our own construction. Deadlines, bills and commitments are subtle, but cruel masters. Don’t know what it will take to finally shake the deadening life of tedium I’ve chosen for myself back “home,” but I could get used to a life of wandering aimlessly. Like Merle Haggard says, I could “die along the highway and rot away, like some old high wire pole.” Meanwhile I could spend my days feeling the liquidity of Time ebbing and flowing pleasantly behind me as I scatter my coffee grounds into the palmettoes.
Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Monday, February 3, 2014
Parking in the driveway of long time friends Chuck and Donna. Chuck is a salty, badass old sea captain, who has made his living, usually on the sea, captaining commercial fishing boats in the Great Northwest and as a Reserve Police SCUBA diver, recovering bodies. Donna is his child bride, whom I figure, he must have won in a card game in some distant port. Chuck's first bike was a '41 Knuck with a bad carb, bought for fifty bucks. He still rides an old Honda, even well into his eighties.
The weather has been a little warmer here in Southwest Florida, but raining pretty much non-stop. Just hanging out on the covered porch eating, drinking beer and lying to each other. We did go out to see Chuck's boat, which he's been working on, docked about five minutes from his place. I know nothing about boats but it's pretty cool. A 44 ft. motor yacht, built in the 1980's. The interior is all teak wood with brass and glass barometers and shit on the main living area and galley. The best part is down in the engine room, bilge pumps and motor oil, where are crammed two 300 gallon fuel tanks, hydraulic pumps and twin 325 HP turbo-diesels. When he fires those bad mother@#kers up, King Neptune trembles and mermaids quiver in delight.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Bailed out of the panhandle with threats of freezng drizzle and headed south, passng through towns with names like "Winter Haven" and "Frostproof." I'm now sequestered in a crowded State Park campground where the couple next door is cooking some foul smelling dish that, may or may not contain Spaghettios, as a main ingredient and argue non-stop, eight feet from my window. Windows I refuse to close because it would require turning on the AC which I refuse to do strictly on philosophical grounds. It's hot now, Sputnik's tongue is lolling and I'm sweating. Not used to this heat, reaffirming what I've always believed; that the human condition is one of constant dissatisfaction.
But the beer's cold and it's great entertainment watching these old farts trying to back their ridiculously gargantuan motor homes into these small campsites.
I've got people around Port Charlotte and I'll head ther in the morning.
Gotta' get my laptop fixed, my thumbs are getting cramps.
Sunday, January 26, 2014
Laptop's broke so I'm forced to thumb this out on the smartphone.
Passed this on my way here, but took some pics when I went back into town for supplies.
Florida, it seems, is the place to retire and die for trucks as well as rich Easterners and polite, wealthy Canadians.
This group sat in the quiet semi-circle of a shaded glen watching traffic pass by on the Costal Highway like dignified gentlemen in a State of Oxidizing Grace.
Friday, January 24, 2014
Thursday, January 23, 2014
Sputnik rarely complains and performs her duties as Navigator and Chief Security Officer with aplomb. She does however, look at me during the endless hours spent driving, as if to say, “What the f@#k are we doing, and why?” But hers is not to question why, hers is to take up space and bark at the gas station dogs as we leave The Natchez Trace to cut across the seedy underbelly of rural Alabama.
Pulp plants and paper mills, rundown shacks, satellite dishes and a bass boat in front of every trailer. Far-flung small towns and flooded, kiddie pool catfish farms.
Little sleep the night prior, and exhausted as I pressed on, ever-southward. Was propositioned by a big-boned, freckle-faced mulatto hooker in a Dothan, Alabama MacDonald's parking lot. I politely declined, but later wondered if I should have negotiated a loving embrace for a happy meal and a vanilla shake.
Memo to Garmin:
You produce a fine product, but for the love of God, please install a “Keep me the Hell out of the Hood” mode on your GPS device. “Fastest time” mode is ok, but a nigga’ could get killed in the places it takes you.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
Last time I'd been on the Natchez Trace Parkway was on my first bike, a KZ750 twin, on my first two-wheeled roadtrip. It was in late March and I got drenched and cold, and had to hole up in a motel for a day due to an incessant deluge. I ended up 24 hours AWOL reporting to Ft. Polk Louisiana to finish out my tour, but a kindly Duty Sargent let me slide when I signed in. Different situation now, just meandering south and west with no schedule nipping at my heels.
The Trace is an awesome drive or ride. Beautiful, smooth road with gentle, wooded curves, ranging from hardwoods to open prairie grass to a canopy of conifers. The sun finally showed itself from behind Winter's dreary clouds, and my spirits soared after some shitty conditions. I hope not to wait thirty-five years to revisit this stretch. Kind of freaky to see nothing but a natural setting, no houses, businesses or billboards, and was surprised to see so many feral dogs patrolling the sides of the road. The pickings must be pretty good on The Trace, the dogs were dirty, but looked well-fed. I stopped once to check one out, Sputnik let out a low growl and the hair stood up on her back as her wilder relative stared back with furtive hateful eyes, before bolting back into the woods.