October 3, 2012
We got off early and stopped for a cup of coffee at one of the many cute shopping centers, crammed with expensive cars and well-dressed people. Christof used the breakfast break to shop the internet for car rentals, and found one at the Ft. Walton Airport that we can pick up today!
This has two advantages. We could be in New Orleans tomorrow – thus avoiding the expensive weekend rates – and by getting the car before Pensacola we wouldn’t have to ride through it, which we have been warned against doing by cyclists who live there.
After breakfast we stopped at a bike shop to have our chains changed and the gears adjusted. It’s a wonderful feeling, after riding 3000 k’s to have bikes that feel new again, and gears that react immediately when we shift.
In contrast to The Forgotten Coast, this part of the Gulf is highly developed, brimming with tasteful, candy- colored townhouses, stylish shopping plazas, and beaches crammed people under colored umbrellas.
When the road along the coast ended, we continued along Rt. 98. Not a relaxing or pleasant experience, but doable as long as there was a shoulder to ride on. At times even these disappeared and navigating the traffic became abrasive, especially when the cars and trucks cut back in too early after swerving around to pass us in a generous half circle, nearly running me over. Christof – a true gentleman – rides in back, thus protecting me from behind, but I am open and unshielded from drivers over-steering in front. If I hadn’t jammed on my breaks at one point, when I heard a truck cutting in too close, I wouldn’t be writing this blog!
We stopped at an Asian restaurant in one of the many plazas to use the rest room and, smelling the delicious odor of freshly-cooked food, spontaneously stayed for an early lunch although it was only 11:30. Without doubt one of the best meals we have yet had.
Crossing three bridges and navigating non-stop traffic on four and six lane highways with and without shoulders, and seeing a cross and a white painted bicycle with a wreath on it, reminded us of how fragile and tenuous our lives are, and how quickly the thread can be cut through by a traffic accident. The message on the wreath was simply to:
Stopping to ask for directions to the airport and discovering it was still at least five miles away, which would mean navigating rush hour traffic, crossing another bridge and continuing along a six lane highway without shoulders, I decided to wait at the used car dealership where we asked for directions, and let Christof pick up the car alone.
I brought my iPad into the air-conditioned waiting room, hoping to use the time to write the day’s report, but the car dealer treated me to a lengthy discourse on American politics. I did ask his opinion on the elections, having no idea how verbal he would be!
At the T-Mobile shop, the provider Christof uses for the navigation system, that left us without a signal during most of our time in Florida, the difficulty was solved and I finally bought a prepaid card for my cell. If one of us should get bitten by a poisonous snake, the other can now call for help.
It was twilight and we were too exhausted to make any decisions. Should we go back towards one of the nice places we had seen along the Gulf, or continue westwards towards New Orleans?
We decided on the latter course, and drove to what our navigation system showed as a campsite on the water, which was an ugly RV park on a six lane highway. The sun set and we suddenly felt starved. Stopping at a supermarket to get wine, flatbread and humus, we decided not to look for a campground in the dark, but for a motel on the water.
We drove and drove without seeing any motels – by now it was pitch black – and were unexpectedly in Alabama driving through an eerie, uninhabited landscape of highways dotted with shiny, new, dark towers. Not a hotel or motel in sight. We felt like ants searching for lodging in an oversized, impersonal world. Eventually we found a Marriott located in the parking lot behind a Walmart. The half-dark facade gave us hope, and Christof the assurance he needed to wheel and deal, since obviously more than half the rooms were still empty.
Our room was spotlessly clean and over-looked a development of houses huddled near a lake planted with palms and assiduous trees.