Florida

Having a Blast. An Arctic Blast

7.02: Waking up at dawn to the chirps of snowbirds and the growls of polar bears. The outside of of the tent is dripping. So is the tip of my nose.

7.41: After a couple of snoozes, I work my way out of my sleeping bag and start searching for my wife beneath her layers of scarf, sleeping bag, silk liner, buff and other extra blankets borrowed for the night from the friendly firemen of Mossy Head.

8.17: Time for a breakfast feast of peanut butter & banana sandwiches. Now we can seize the day! Put the pedal to the metal!

8.41: Oops, still have to brush our teeth, pack up the tent, find my left glove… Almost gone!

9.07: Off we go!

9.22 (ish…): Time for a snack after our first 20 km of the day!

… And the rest is history: Wrestling saber toothed penguins and Florida black bears, eating peanut butter sandwiches (again!), finding warmth in caves (68 degrees year round!) and cycling over the hills of Florida’s panhandle! Ummm… hills? Yes! Hills! We had almost forgotten what those were all about! And after the past week, we’ve come to the following simple equation:

Florida pannhandle = Belgium – waffles (at least in terms of weather and topography, it feels like home)

The country’s enjoying an Arctic Blast (that some mistakingly dub a Polar Vortex, because it sounds cooler). Although some might see reason to complain, we’d rather look at the many silver linings around this winter cloud. So here’s the Golden List of Why Cold is Cool:

  1. No more mosquitoes.
  2. Chocolate tastes better.
  3. Cheese will last longer.
  4. We feel less sticky in our tent.
  5. Snakes are hibernating.
  6. Sunscreen won’t trickle into our eyes.
  7. No need to shave (hair keeps you warm).
  8. No need for ice in our water bottles.
  9. People are even more hospitable.
  10. We can drink hot cocoa.

And saying we’re enduring the weather alone in our tent would not do justice to all the wonderful people and their generosity that brought warmth to our hearts and bodies almost every night over the past week. We are so thankful to the following people:

  • The Ortega family for taking us in after we knocked on their door in Lee (Speaking of which, I have to mention my favorite town motto so far: “Lee, small but proud”)
  • Kristin, our 1st couchsurfing host, who offered us a night at the hotel after her heater broke down
  • The Ministries association of Bonifay who offered us a night at the Bonifay Inn
  • Rev. Benny and his wife Kathy in Chattahoochee who took us in and baked us a blueberry cake the next morning
  • Justin and Marina who let us in their community building in Tallahassee, where we had a warm night and an air hockey table to ourselves! (I won, by the way)
  • Zef and Oona who took us in for a couple of nights in their little haven on the outskirts of Monticello where we watched the parade for Martin Luther King’s birthday!
  • Tracy and her family, who offered us a campfire dinner and s’mores!
  • Al and Sally, hosting us right now as the town prepares for snow and sleet for the next 48 hours!

Thank you all so much for making this a Blast!

Categories: Florida | 4 Comments

Orange Bike Mechanics

Après quelques 5000 km parcourus vers le sud, toujours plus au sud, nous nous sommes levés un matin, une idée toute fraîche en tête : et si on faisait volte-face et qu’on travaillait pour une fois la face gauche de notre bronzage ? (cela fait bien longtemps que la coloration de mon casque a perdu de sa symétrie !) Et pour soutenir l’idée folle du matin, notons que pour poursuivre vers le sud, il nous aurait fallu gonfler à bloc nos chambres à air et nous munir de pagaies : plus que 90 miles et on était à Cuba !

Nous revoici donc au lever du jour, à contempler d’un oeil rempli d’appréhension l’horizon nordique. Paulette et Daniel sont dans l’avion (3h pour un Miami-Boston ! 1h d’avion équivaut donc à 1 mois de vélo ;). Adieu parents, confort, air co, scampis ! Et à nous la rudesse des éléments : grand vent, invasion de moustiques, pluies tonitruantes, vagues de froids, premiers pneus plats … la Floride version carte postale, c’est fini ! On remonte par l’intérieur des terres. Depuis Boston, nombreux sont ceux qui nous avaient mis en garde contre cette région du pays où de drôles de bonhommes vivent dans les buissons et où les cartels de drogues terrorisent les braves pères de famille. Un de nos précédents hôtes nous avait même raconté comment un soir, il s’était retrouvé en plein milieu d’une assemblée du Ku Klux Klan. Mes tentatives de dissuasions restent sans écho : Jonathan est bien décidé à découvrir par lui-même ce que cache l’intérieur de la péninsule. Nous nous séparons donc, je prends la côte ouest et lui la route des malfrats, et nous décidons de nous retrouver dans les marécages d’Orlando (que j’atteins bien évidemment avant lui, tout le monde ne peut pas fendre l’air comme mon Fireworks) (bon ok, rien de ceci ne s’est réellement passé : évidemment que j’ai suivi mon cher et tendre (pas Fireworks, l’autre 😉 dans sa courageuse exploration ! Et nos efforts ont été couronnés de vaches aux longues cornes, d’orangers et de cannes à sucre à pertes de vue, de sources turquoises et d’autochtones rivalisant de gentillesse les uns avec les autres ! On comprend mieux pourquoi le secret de l’intérieur des terres est si bien gardé ! Car qui a dit que la Floride était plate ? Après des semaines de ponts pour unique montagne, nous découvrons avec bonheur quelques collines, enchantant le paysage et nos mollets.

Outre ma promesse solennelle de rester aux côtés de Jonathan pour le meilleur comme pour le pire, un petit argument aux grandes oreilles et aux gants blancs finit de me convaincre du tracé à prendre : pour rendre visite à Mickey, autant viser un jour de semaine, quitte à couper à travers le pays et insister un peu plus fort sur les pédales ! C’est donc par un glorieux vendredi, entourés de milliers de petits et grands enfants, qu’on pousse les portes du “on ne peut plus bisounours” des parcs Disney. Commence alors le grand marathon des attractions (car oui, l’absence de landeau ainsi que notre incroyable condition physique nous permet de courir d’une file à l’autre sous l’oeil épuisé des parents environnants). Les animations sont plus courtes que dans nos souvenirs, et tous ces mecanismes nous semblent vraiment ingénieux. Dur de se sentir adulte sans même être vieux. Heureusement, Mickey fait son show devant le château, et d’un coup c’est toute sa magie qui rejaillit, jusqu’à humidifier les petits bords de mes yeux. Dreams really do come true !

Categories: Florida | 4 Comments

The Old Man and the Keys

It is said that half of American writers try to imitate Hemingway. The other half tries not to. Given my dual citizenship, I don’t know which category I fit into yet (maybe a 25% imitation?). But as I write this post on Southern Florida, I hope old Ernest will put up with my attempt.

Chapter I of our journey concluded in style, with Mom & Dad coming over to spend a week with us to enjoy Christmas and experience the thermal shock of escaping to the tropics in December.

We started off with wildlife viewings in the Everglades, where anhingas, herons, crocs and gators came out to greet us in numbers. Heck, we even got to see some hot manatee action on their first day!

Beyond enjoying the wildlife, spending a week with the parents was also a food fest! After all, there were many reasons to celebrate! (seeing each other, Christmas, birthday, anniversary and New year all packed within 1 week). And we were more than willing to put our camping stove out of business for a few days! That being said, we did actually serve them one of our signature Rice ‘n Beans dishes for supper one night.

We celebrated mom & dad’s anniversary on Miami Beach (what else?) and improvised our own Art Deco self guided tour of the city (Did you know that at the time of the Festival des Arts Decoratifs in 1925, President Coolidge said the US would not attend because America “had no Modern Art”? What a scoundrel!)

After that, it was time to roam the Florida Keys, scourging for key lime pies, pristine beaches, sea turtles and coral reefs! We even went for a victory lap with dad across the famous 7 mile bridge! (Don’t worry Dad, you’re not the one we’re referring to in the title of this post). We didn’t forget to visit Key West and Hemingway’s house (hence the remarkable improvement of my writing skills).

So many wonderful memories and it all went by so fast! January 1st came along and it was already time to say goodbye and get back on the saddle . As chapter II now begins… West we go!

Categories: Florida | 6 Comments

Florida’s Ride of Fame!

Bold and adventurous as conquistador Juan Ponce de Leon in 1513, we overtook the sunshine peninsula as fast as the wind blows! Well, almost. It’s hard to outrun the 20 miles per hour tailwinds (although we were quite thankful for them), and we didn’t really feel like forcing thr natives into slavery in order to chop down mahogany trees for us (no room for that in our panniers anyway).
Nevertheless, it almost felt like local legends Mickey Mouse and Henry Flagler (name dropping alert) laid out a smooth red carpet for us to roll down on our final xxx mile stretch to the end of Atlantic Adventure.
Among the stars scattered around the Ride of Fame, we should mention:
* A smoldering defeat of the local college football heroes, the Florida Gators, in their 90,000 person stadium. A couple more games and we might understand all the rules of the game. However it would probably take us a few more years of immersion to embrace the military propaganda going on between each down.
* A stroll across St Augustine, the USA’s “oldest continuously occupied European-established settlement” (patent pending), which we will remember for almost-visiting-the-old-fort and impersonating students in order to roam freely through its 5 star resort/private college
* Our lucky strike of Warm Showers on the way down the Atlantic Coast, with once again so many kind and generous people along the way
* A sprint across Miami (or at least between its stoplights) in rush hour (it’s apparently always rush hour in Miami)
* The final sprint down to the Keys, end of Volume I of our journey! But more on that later. Now it’s time to enjoy some holiday time with my parents who came over for Christmas!

Categories: Florida | 9 Comments

On the road again !!!

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Après 2 semaines de sédentarisation, à nous la Floride !!!

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Thank God it’s Friday

Avis aux PDG des PME, voici quelques pistes pour clôturer en beauté la semaine de vos employés !
Jeudi matin, prononcez d’un air désintéressé devant quelques travailleurs “Ah tiens, demain on pourrait faire du tubing” (en tant que résidant floridien, vous savez aussi bien que moi que “tuber” – to tube, tubed, tubed- consiste grosso modo à dévaler une rivière au moyen d’un engin gonflable). Effet assuré: ces quelques mots résonnent dans les yeux rêveurs de vos interlocuteurs, la nouvelle se répand comme une traînée de poudre, et bientôt vous constatez un pic de production jamais égalé.
Vendredi, munissez-vous de votre plus belle casquette pour prendre le volant de votre minibus, direction: Itchetuknee!
Soyez le premier à plonger à l’eau, tandis que damoiselles et damoiseaux s’installent confortablement sur leur tube (bouée/matelas/canoé gonflable).
Explorez les fonds aquatiques à la recherche d’un diamant oublié, remontez-en un masque et tuba abandonnés. Saluez au passage les tortues, puis grimpez sur votre arbre préféré pour effectuer un triple sauté piqué. Le public semble conquis, mais en tant que PDG, vous savez pertinemment que ces gais fanfarons n’en sont qu’à leur mise en bouche. Car voici arriver le plat de consistance : une exploration des fonds marins (ou plutôt riverains). Mieux vaut avoir son diplôme d’apnée et ses oreilles bien accrochées pour s’enfoncer dans le Blue Hole. Enfin, planifier un passage de loutre pour annoncer le retour au bercail!

Petite entracte avec son habituel festin, couronné cette fois d’un délicieux cake orangé délicatement coupé en forme de coeur, et il est temps pour vous de passer solennellement le flambeau à vos enfants. Ceux-ci ont concocté drapeaux nationaux et trophées de vainqueurs pour animer les plus grandes joutes que Gainseville n’ait connues : la coupe du monde du Beer Pong et du Flip Cup. Trois continents représentés, huit équipes en compétition, armés de leur gobelets rouges fétiches. L’hymne national belge a retenti fort cette nuit-là, et a valu aux “Muscles of Brussels” une place en demi -finale 😉 Thank God it’s Friday !!!

Categories: Florida | 3 Comments

You can eat anthing you want at the McCarty’s restaurant

Setting your fork down after taking your last piece of pumpkin pie and feeling so full that all you can think of is “I’ll… never… eat… again”. We knew how intense and fulfilling that would be. But then sitting around the table and singing along to the 20 min anthem of “You can have anything you want at Alice’s restaurant”… now that’s a Thanksgiving tradition we didn’t know of!

Thanksgiving. Our first holiday away from home since the beginning of our trip. And such an important family gathering in the US. We had really hoped to find people to share it with! And we were with the McCarty family and all their guests (about 25 people), making all of us feel like family! There was a lot of action going on around the stove in the 24 hours prior to the feast. And the result was amazing! We most probably shared the most scrumptuous meal ever seen on the face of the planet!

It was a feast for both tastebuds and souls. The abundance of food made a good metaphor for all we are thankful for!
For having each other every moment of every day on this adventure
For the incredible hospitality of the people we met and who’ve taken us in
For all the cars that didn’t run us over
For the e-mails and encouragement from our family and friends during our tour
For the wwoofing experience and the good times with the whole McCarty family and other wwoofers. Thank you Sid, Susan, Nea, Sunna, Sidney, Nia, Jesse, Joseph, Jay, Ilona, Eric, Morgan, Gaspar and Anissa
For corn bread and lemonade
For the mechanics of our noble steeds, Dynamite and Fireworks, who haven’t had a single flat tire since we started
For sun, stars and tail winds
For spiders and frogs, for being brave mosquito predators (although they could do a better job, sometimes)

And you, what are you thankful for ?

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A Doggy Dog World

“Can I do anything to help?”
“Oh yeah, you can grab some leftover shingles behind the shop for the A-frame and ask Milly to pooper-scoop the drive before we bring in the Trader Joe’s and the drums for the pigs. Oh, and could you check if d’Artagnan is still after the Yorkie?”
You didn’t understand half the words in this sentence? Neither did we, at first. But after 2 weeks, we could almost say we mastered the Simonton Farms vernacular!
After 2.5 months of biking, we figured it would be good for us to get our hands dirty with something else than chain lube. With over a month ahead of us to go down the Atlantic coast of Florida, we could take advantage of the extra time to go wwoofing!
Those puzzled looks on your faces will soon relax as we will now provide a short explanation of this new and exotic term.
World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Basically, it’s an organization allowing people to work on farms in exchange for food, shelter and a great learning experience! Wwoofing is a term you may use quite liberally: to wwoof, a wwoofer, a wwoofing experience…
And at Simonton Farms in Micanopy, Florida, Sid and Susan take in wwoofers galore! And we were lucky enough to wwoof with them! (See, we’re already getting used to the terminology).
We were 9 wwoofers, from the US, New Zealand, France and Begium (that’s us!). And there was a lot of stuff going on! It took us maybe a day or two to get really started on stable (and by that we don’t mean horses) jobs, but we were finally proudly responsible for: laying shinges on the “A-frame” (one of the home-built wwoofer houses on the property), erecting fences for the peas to climb on, making jam… but most of all, we were the official Pooper Scoopers of the puppy area!
That’s right, the main output of the farm is puppies! Hundreds of puppies to take care of (and inevitably, of poops to scoop out), and lots of side projects too! Tending to the vegetable garden, restoring the plant nursery, feeding the pigs and chicken, collecting unsold perishable items from the organic grocery store, giving some away, processing others, preparing dinner for the whole gang (at least 15 people)… and there’s always room for more ideas and fun in this doggy dog world!

Categories: Florida | 3 Comments

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