Southern Tier: Dauphin Island to Perry, FL

I’m at the ferry dock at 7:30am, watching the thick fog come in across the bay. One crew walks out on the dock and comes near to me and the only car in line to announce the fact: the first run is cancelled. The earliest one is an hour and a half away. I ride to the intersection and find a bakery to have some danish and coffee. The owner is on the phone talking to his brother as I leave. “There is a guy here who cycled all the way from Vancouver… Yes, Canada! Hold on, let me ask… DO YOU WARSHIP GOD?”

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Is this medieval Europe? I’ve got to get out of here. Sun seems to lift the fog. I ride back to check. No, not yet. I go to nearby Ft Gaines and explore some civil war memorablia, bomb shells, forgotten letters and sad photographs. A band is playing southern rythms; they sound nice. Third run is also cancelled, so I go to Audobon Bird Park and hike through quiet path to some sand dunes and fill the air with annoying screetches with the bird caller I just picked up at the fort — no birds, I am more like making the fog thicker. By noon time I bike to the intersection to get some lunch and get ready to call it a day. On the way I come across another cyclist running to the ferry, Jay-the-tree-planter. I give the bad news that ferry has been sitting at the dock all morning and point at the fog still hanging over the beach. Jay heads for the dock, I head for lunch. I keep checking the ferry web site while waiting my order. Finally, it loads and bam, an update. It says the fog has lifted. Eight minutes to departure. As the cook prepares my fish sandwich, time stretches and everything slows down. She lifts the fillet from the fry tank and checks its temperature. Nope, it’s not done yet. What seems like an eternity later she wraps it and asks me if I need napkins. At that moment I know I cannot possibly make it. My watch must be a few minutes ahead and this is not Japan, but there is no way I will catch that ferry. I spin through the two-mile stretch and arrive at the dock while the ferry is maneuvering out to sea.

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I eat my lunch in quiet shade and just pray that the fog will not come back. The ferry returns, leaves at two o’clock without incident and the crew member waves my $5 fee due to the delay that lasted all morning. The other side, Ft Morgan, is only four miles away and takes half an hour to cross. The wind is at my back and I soon arrive at the Gulf State Park after a quick grocery shopping at the largest market I’ve seen in a long time. The only cashier wishes me a happy holiday season and says she hopes I will visit them again soon — I doubt it.

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Jay and I share an expensive primitive site in this huge park and chat in the dark as we eat dinner. Both of us started from almost the same place and around the same time. It is magical to meet someone like that after travelling alone for so long.

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I will probably keep following the ACA map and head inland. Jay wants to trail along the coast, then make it to Tallahassee to fly out. We start to ride together next morning with a slight headwind. After making a wrong turn we are stuck in a dead-end road. After a 3-mile detour we are back on track on highway 182. It’s just past noon and I am starving, but Jay has gone too far ahead. I go into a boat launch area and eat some snacks. I don’t see Jay ever again. Do I smell that bad?

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The road into Pensacola is nice, the town is tidy and clean, and there is almost nobody around. Soon I discover where they are: in a brewery near the historic district. I sleep in a pricey inn with a free ‘happy hour’. I am alone drinking two cans of beer and eating most of their snacks — no need for a dinner tonight. I am again alone next morning sampling everything edible in their breakfast area.

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Northern winds, my Texan friend’s suggestions and some inspiration from lost Jay-the-tree-planter, are enough to make me change my direction and head for the coastal road and I’m glad I do. It is beautiful. Empty white sand beaches, pink houses on stilts. Lots of rental properties. This is Santa Rosa Island. The long bridge to the island carries signs that say “$25 fine for fixing vehicles or changing tires on bridge”. Return to mainland at Navarre Beach and then back to another island, Jolee. Destin is a big town with busy lanes. Day ends at Grayton State Park with a nice sunset.

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Weather cools down again while I pedal through Watercolor, Seaside, Seagrove and Rosemary Beach. It’s almost too tidy around here. Panama City is a bit hectic and a woman driver tries to kill me by making a sharp right turn into a gas station. Next is a long straight road that goes through Tyndall AFB. Fighter jets flying low. Christmas decorations are in full swing at Rustic Sands RV park and I catch another perfect sunset at Mexico Beach.

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I pass the ETZ line, the last time zone on my route. Port St Joe has a historic downtown with a nice book-cafe: Noname. After crossing the long bridge across the mouth of Apalachicola River, I spot a sign that says “St George SP 9 miles”. I cross another bridge to an island and arrive at an idyllic town and a deserted park at the east end. No warm showers, but the view is nice and so dark and clear at night, I can see the Milky Way.

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Back on mainland with a mild headwind, I leave the beaches and head east, passing through a town with the cutest name: Sopchoppy. At Newport, I stay at the county park and walk down to its only restaurant, “Ouzts’ Too”.

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As I am speeding to Perry on a long straight road, I can feel a 100-mile day coming, but when I reach the town, colorful banners announce a blues festival at the park, so I opt for a short day and loud music until midnight.

52 days, 2951 miles.

st8View the full route

Date Destination Miles Duration
2014-12-06 Gulf SP, Orange Beach, AL 32 02:49
2014-12-07 Sole Inn, Pensacola, FL 40 04:30
2014-12-08 Grayton Beach SP, FL 76 07:07
2014-12-09 Rustic Sands RV Park, Mexico Beach, FL 62 05:08
2014-12-10 State Park, St George Island, FL 54 05:13
2014-12-11 County Park, Newport, FL 72 06:22
2014-12-12 Forest Capital Park, Perry, FL 42 03:34