This is a going to be a “smash and grab” blog post.  Our trip has been relaxing and somewhat of a pseudo adventure/vacation, but we are well aware that every free moment should be spent preparing for our next journey (WWOOFing in South America) or route planning to finish this one.  With that said, I have 30 minutes to spare before a gaggle of Gangls (Leah and co.) meet us at the campsite in Hurricane Mills, TN.

One thing first: these past few days have been absolutely remarkable.  As far as rest days go, these were some of the best we’ve had.  In order to capture the essence of this enjoyment I am going to attempt to give some day-to-day summary in the interest of keeping it succinct.  (P.S. I get distracted very easily.  With that in mind, please note that there is currently a guy running his gator for the sole purpose of blasting his country music at 10:35 PM.  Right now I can only focus when the interstate traffic is loud enough to overtake his horribly twangy tunes, so slapping on the literary guard rails of the timeline summary will help keep this narrative moving!)

So what have you missed?  I will only briefly note a few more things about our last haven, Al’s Cycle hostel in Farmington, MO, before moving on to the next six days because I have already gushed enough about that place.  Just moments after posting my last blog entry, two Swedes by the names of Mariel and Frida rolled in to the hostel.  Because we had previously had the place to ourselves, Libby and I felt that Al’s was our home. The arrival of two more cyclists quickly brought us back to reality!  Being friends from the northern part of Sweden, Mariel and Frida had every intention of filling their stateside journey with adventure and tear-inducing laughter.  We learned of their volunteerism abroad, Mariel’s 14 winters in the Austrian mountains, her time spent in Indonesia, and how their perspective of Americans was changing with this trip.  We also learned of their goofy Facebook page (including a “scare cam” through which Frida intentionally scares the crap out of Mariel randomly throughout the trip) and where they share their review on convenience store pizza in Kentucky and camping on strangers’ lawns.  They seemed to have boundless energy that could only be explained by the fact that they prioritized sleep, allowing them to be up by 5:15 and riding by 6 AM every day.  …Some people are just morning people.  I prefer my mornings to be dark and slow with shades drawn, coffee in hand, scrolling through 538 articles in complete silence.  Although I may think I am being polite in my monk-like disposition, I think that my evil twin “Morning Joe” (as Libby has not so fondly named him) is more akin to a fifteen year-old being stirred by his parents too early on a Saturday.

After we crawled out of bed an hour and a half after the Swedes had already hit the road we received our second wonderful guest, Nonni.  I can’t quite capture everything that we discussed over the next hour and a half, but after telling Nonni about our trip’s purpose, she shared her family’s experience with cancer (including how it eventually took her mother).  We learned that Nonni is an amazing person who serves as both loving daughter and loyal caretaker to her aging father.  She runs his laundry, maintains the lawn, brings him meals, and handles all of the bills.  This, in addition to running her own life, is a monumental task that can only be tackled by someone with a truly selfless spirit.  Much like optimistic Andreas (the cookie-bearing Austrian from a previous post), Nonni possesses something that I hope to add to my utility belt of emotional intelligence.  After finishing up with her duties at the hostel, Nonni mentioned that she was heading south via a Harley ride with her husband to enjoy a margarita on a sandy beach in one of the few areas of the Gulf left untouched by Hurricane Irma.  I hope Nonni finds the sunshine and relaxation she deserves.

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BREAK – Team Gangl has arrived, bringing with them two toddler tornadoes. With their unpredictable movements, nieces A and B offer certain destruction to whatever clothing they are wearing, constant parental negotiation, and seemingly unprovoked meltdowns.  I watched as both parents haggled with the little ones offering up applesauce, puffs, and even pizza (breaks Aurelia’s mind) in hopes of getting a early bedtime in return.  The little ones occasionally hijacked the trip simply because they are so dependent on their parents and require you to be absolutely selfless.  During that experience, however, we were consistently rewarded for our patience with the cutest grins and adorable unfiltered toddler/baby jabber.  I love my nieces to the moon and back, but sometimes this song and dance tires me out.  If I were in the kiddos shoes and someone came offering a nap in a pre-built blanket fort I would have cranked up the noise machine and said see you tomorrow.  My nieces however, are clever and have a list of demands that must be met (preferred blankets, stuffed animals, glasses of water, etc.) before they will begrudgingly pass out.  I thought biking across the country was a challenge but after assisting Jim and Leah these past 48 hours I realize now more than ever that parents are the true warriors of our society.  No sleep, unbelievable patience, and limited time to think of yourself and your ever-growing Netflix queue.  So take a bow, all of you amazing parents out there.  I give you a standing ovation and commend your work.

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SECOND BREAK – Sometimes trying to write a blog post is a real act of attrition.  Since I started this post, the Gangls and their glorious RV, Jim’s cooking, Leah’s optimism, and A&B’s entertainment have made their way back to MN.  After falling back into our routine we directed our attention to meeting up with our friends Jon and Michelle in Gainesville. A seemingly easy task turned into a bit of a battle as our path laid blocked by a hurricane, ANOTHER heatwave, and a few flat tires (to be addressed later on).

So back to the journey…

When I abandoned the comforts of our Farmington, MO hostel accommodation I took off on an 80 mile ride for Murphysboro, IL.  My motivation (affectionately coined by our friend Rachel) was to continue my “BBQ Brisket Bender” at the ‘Praise the Lard’ event hosted by 17th Street BBQ.  Our mornings are slower paced these days as everything in the van is a process.  If we want to eat oatmeal, for example, we have to get out the camping stove from behind the seat, the ingredients from inside the food bin, and the dishes from under the bed.  When I write it in a sentence it really doesn’t seem like much work, just having to lift a few extra things here and there… but in practice, everything seems to take about three times as long when being carried out.  That being said, when I woke up with brisket on the brain I really sped through my routine, skipping breakfast in favor of peanut butter-covered granola as my only fuel.  All was well as I crossed the river into Chester, IL around noon. I decided to pull off, grab some shade, and mow down on whatever snacks I had packed.  The day’s menu was like any other: apples, fruit snacks, assorted nuts, and a banana or two.  The only thing that was different from my normal snack arsenal was the “goo” packet that a friend from home had graciously donated to our journey.  If you aren’t familiar with goo packets, they are used by triathletes to get a quick boost of calories, carbs, and caffeine and have the look and consistency of toothpaste.  Since I was so jazzed to be on my way to my beloved BBQ, I figured I had better juice up to ensure a timely arrival.  …BIG MISTAKE.  Someone (ahem, pointing at myself) didn’t check the expiration dates and later discovered that the packets were past their prime by nearly 3 years.

Needless to say, I started feeling pretty horrible – my body ached, my head hurt, and I was losing the strength required to even pick my head up to watch the road.  I was riding some extremely rural routes so I felt safe taking up more than my fair share of the road (in other words, weaving all over the place). About an hour later, still feeling nauseous, I redecorated Levee Road ditch with my lunch and found a large tree under which I curled up into the fetal position and waited for Libby – who was an hour away – to pick me up.  I am sure I looked absolutely helpless because less than five minutes later, a man named BJ strided over and asked if I was okay.  I learned that the tree I had claimed was in his yard and that he had spotted me while out doing some vehicle maintenance (rubbing down the wire harness with peppermint oil to prevent the squirrels from eating through it again).  He helped me up and invited me into his home for water as it was “too damn hot to be outside”.  After guiding me to a recliner in his living room he set up a TV tray with a few glasses of water and went through his pantry to grab every snack he could find before dumping them in front of me.  I tipped a glass or two back and gummed a granola bar before I could finally have a conversation without the risk of tossing my cookies on this man’s carpet.  We talked about the trip and his grandkids, watched videos of them competing in Tai Kwon Do, and discussed his beloved St. Louis Cardinals while three episodes of NCIS droned in the background.  He was an energetic man who had helped many struggling cyclists found stopped in his yard.  As I slowly regained some strength and prepared to set out, BJ offered to drive me into town (which was 20 minutes out of his way).  While sharing this experience with Libby later that night, we sipped down bowls of ramen and marveled at the continued generosity of strangers.

The next day I feasted on the much-awaited barbecue at the famous 17th Street BBQ. The restaurant was started by a man who won the prestigious cooking tournament ‘Memphis in May’ three times – a monumental achievement.  We walked down pit row to see all different types of smokers, including large commercial set-ups, trailers that were 30+ feet long, a taxicab (see Instagram) that had been customized with various grilling set ups, and two women tugging a childrens’ wagon filled with bloody mary supplies that people approached to mute the previous night’s reminder of a headache.

With the food settling in my stomach I hopped back on my bike and set out for Cave In Rock, IL. This was one of the few times I wasn’t able to use the Adventure Cycle maps I had relied on up to that point.  Google helped me determine the best route to take (except for suggesting a three mile stretch of gravel) and with my buddy sunlight, I felt I could navigate whatever their biking maps beta could throw my way. 

My optimism ran out about the time that the daylight did.  A later-than-usual start and longer mileage had me finishing around 8:30 PM with sunset having occurred at 6:50 PM.  I wasn’t overly concerned as I had biked plenty of times in the dark with headlamps.  The one thing I didn’t really consider, however, was the fact that those instances were in a city with periodic streetlights and familiar routes.  Therefore, when Google Beta had me turn onto a gravel road with a creepy tree canopy that blacked out all remaining light, the world quickly turned into something straight out of “Where the Wild Things Are.”  I hadn’t really experienced pure fear by this point in the trip, but being in a foreign place that seemed like the set of a horror movie didn’t ease a wandering mind with plenty of time on it’s hands.  That was when I reverted back to my family’s biking days and the mantra that always kept us going: there is only one way to get there, and that is to bike – so you might as well get to it!  With that in mind, I gritted my teeth and focused on the five feet in front of me that I could actually see while doing my best to ignore what I am sure was a pack of ravenous wolves stalking me as I rolled through their hunting grounds.

One and a half hours later I arrived at the campground with all limbs intact, thankful for having survived the ride and vowing to never make the stupid mistake of riding at night ever again.  Then I did the very same thing the next day!  As mentioned above, I am not exactly energetic in the mornings and adding time between waking up and eating/drinking coffee is a recipe for me becoming the moody teenager that only got 10 hours of sleep instead of his required 14.  This has caused some delays on the trip as the mornings are a time when I am playing catch up on emails and texts and dreading putting on the two pounds of sunscreen that I have to wear.  Since checkout at campgrounds and hostels alike is usually around 11:00 AM – 12:00 PM I often don’t end up taking off until shortly after. Furthermore, depending on the distance, elevation change, and the amount of glass I run over, there will inevitably be delays on the trail.  As a result, we found ourselves in a cycle where the days were getting shorter and our mornings were getting longer.  This led to many sunset and star-laden rides over the next few days leading into Nashville!

Taking a rest day in the country music capital of the world quickly turned into one of the highlights of our trip.  Our excitement was founded in a somewhat silly but ultimately rational thought process:  a year earlier we both enjoyed binging on the Netflix series “Master of None” featuring Aziz Asari.  The show is about someone in their mid-thirties and the benefits and struggles that accompany this period in life.  Halfway through the first season the main character takes his love interest on a date night to Nashville, during which they go out on the town, eat fantastic food, line dance, and overall have a romantic and time in a vibrant city.  So naturally when Libby and I found ourselves within striking distance of the town we immediately envisioned ourselves living the Master of None experience.  To keep it brief, we ate (hot chicken – best of my life, a redneck taco, and mexican food), drank (three breweries!), and took in some historical sites including the great Partheon of Nashville (only full size replica in the world) and the Belle Meade plantation.  If there was any way to press F5 (refresh) on our spirits, Nashville was it.  Revitalized and having rediscovered our purpose, we set back out an hour west to the dusty trail to meet that gaggle of Gangls I mentioned earlier.

Now you are caught up to the point where the biking resumed.  After enjoying Jim’s cast iron cooking mastery and an air conditioned RV I headed back out into the Tennessee countryside.  I will say that if any stretch of the trip surprised me it was riding through Tennessee, Kentucky, and Alabama.  It was extremely flat with a few rolling hills and amazing tree canopies.  They draped over the highway, giving me a brief break from the searing sun that could find whatever little portion of skin that was not covered by gear or sunscreen.  I can say with absolute confidence that due to my 25-minute, diligent application routine I have not had a sunburn this entire trip.  However, I am still touting the beef jerky-like strip on my lower back that I earned on a bike trip to Outing, MN over two and a half months ago while wearing a bike jersey that wasn’t long enough.  For the most part though this waterproof SPF 50 Baby Banana Boat loaded with extra zinc has kept me safe, even if it will take at least 40 showers and a cabbage-only diet (thanks for the idea Mark and Rachel) to properly cleanse my body of the chemical layer that lingers like a fitted body glove.  Anyways, the riding was some of the most relaxing that I have enjoyed this trip (even without the presence of a road shoulder).  There was limited traffic and folks who were willing to give me a lane’s worth of room as they passed at 30 mph rather than the 65 mph I experienced in MO and IL.  I was accompanied by Howard Zinn’s audio book “A People’s History of the United States” until I could no longer listen to to the reader touch on another historical atrocity, whether it was about the manipulative nature of the American Revolution, the true intent of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, or conquerors landing on the beaches of an already-inhabited America and their subsequent destruction of a people and their culture through some of the most terrible ways possible (disease, murder, slavery, etc…).  It was at this point I realized I needed to step away and consume this book in sections rather than all 27 hours at once. Trying to plow through it meant that I was not going to be able to absorb it (or process it for that matter) and I’d like to have time to understand the context that leads to the blip of my life on the timeline of this world.  At the same time, I needed to be present to enjoy what was around me, and listening to Zinn’s words wasn’t exactly the best backdrop for getting out there and “enjoying life.”

So after turning the audio book off later that afternoon I was joined by the second rider of the trip and one of the OGs of my biking experiences: my sister Leah.  We shared a tandem bike for half a decade while growing up and it is a memory that I look back on fondly as a formative part of my life.  As my Dad would say, “it built character” and taught me that many things in life require hard work to accomplish.  Earning things like a deli sandwich, lemon drops, licorice, or even a therma rest at the end of the night really set the stage for a greater appreciation for everything that I am now afforded in this life.  In this story, Leah is the Martin Lawrence to my Will Smith.  She is the thoughtful one who can always see the larger picture and explain delicate, complex matters in a understandable format (even to an angry teenage Joe, whom she was often stuck with for days on end).  She is my translator/interpreter for others when I have a mouthful of an everything Brueggers bagel, when I am mumbling my way through a dinner conversation, or when I am not in the mood to talk at all.  If someone has a window into my mind yet always listens to the opinion that she may have already deduced, it is my sister.  

Therefore when the OG came into my world of the back roads of America I wanted to ensure her safety by sharing a few learned pointers, including how to manage the unleashed doggos that wander these streets.  The surprising thing for the both of us was that over the next day and a half we saw more strays and angry porch-guarding dogs (rough estimate of 70 over 100 miles and usually found in packs of three) than I had experienced the whole trip.  I had a few run-ins already but nothing to this level of severity and it had my sister wondering if the whole trip was a start/stop battle with living roadblocks.  After navigating the last 15 miles with her and escaping back to the safety of the RV we made plans to set out earlier the next day so we wouldn’t have to be chased from the road by the dwindling sunlight.  As we left for a nice 60-70 mile ride into Tishomingo, however, we ran into more dogs – specifically Jack (see Instagram for the story) the world’s sweetest pit bull – who accompanied us for nearly two miles.

As Leah, Jack and I passed a particularly angry dog pack led by their leader (Votto, the enraged terrier/collie mix who wanted to mess our s#!$ up because these were his streets) I urged Leah to pedal on so only I would have to figure out how to get out of the mess rather than the two of us.  That led to the owner coming out and chasing Votto in circles around my bike like a looped scene out of a cartoon.  After 15 rounds of the owner (now sweating profusely) chasing his dog and Votto (seemingly amused at his owner’s failure) literally nipping at our ankles the world decided to sprinkle in a little more danger by adding some traffic.  Leah and I looked up as a UPS truck came barreling around the corner towards us (as if things weren’t already interesting enough).  The truck, however, ended up being our saving grace as we were able to use the diversion to quickly sprint away while being shielded by the big brown wall. Votto – 1, L&J – 0.  Your message was heard Votto.  We will never frequent those streets again!

After that excitement we enjoyed a rest day in which our niece Aurelia muscled up the courage to let Aunty Libby help her pet a dog and swing in a hammock – both things that she previously feared.  Like all things toddler, after becoming accustomed to the swings and newfound location for peekaboo, she couldn’t get enough and implored whoever was closest to push her for the next few hours.  Also per toddler tradition, she is becoming more and more inventive about prolonging the dreaded bedtime!  Why read three stories when I can beg Aunty Libby to read five and then leverage that against Daddy the next night?  It was no surprise then that when I went out to collect firewood in the dark of night I gained an eager, bedtime-avoiding partner.  What I couldn’t get over was how fearless this two foot being was.  I was thinking of the snakes, brambles, sharp rocks, and whatever else I was traversing over and here she was plowing right through it like a mini battering ram.  We collected wood for 25 minutes or so before we finally had to have the “this is the last one” conversation.  It was a moment though that left me thoroughly impressed by the little adventurer.  

After a few more days of riding and camping we ended up further south on the Mississippi/Alabama border ready to spend a night with my Honeymom (an affectionate family nickname for my Grandpa Don’s sister) in Tuscaloosa. We were on a timeline and after stopping for some real southern cooking (BBQ & Pie!) and to bottom out the RV in a Dollar General, I set out to make quick work of the afternoon.  That was until I leaned over to pick up the pink Starburst wrapper I had accidentally dropped and spun my pedal as hard as I could muster into my left shin.  At first the shock stopped the pain from surging  through my leg but a few seconds later my teeth gritted as I was reminded of the feeling that precedes a trip to the urgent care.  I pedaled (one-legged) another 1.7 miles to the Urgent Team where I was greeted by a receptionist who told me I was too calm and that I “probably” needed to go to an emergency room.  Wanting to avoid the $500.00 entry fee to an ER I asked if anyone could take a quick look and throw a few stitches on it.  Moments later I was seen by Cindy, an ICU nurse practitioner of 18 years who had seen much worse.  She took one glance and said “No problem.”  Fifteen plus stitches later (she said she lost count) I hobbled back out with a solid explanation for our tardiness to our hosts an hour south.  As Cindy was using my leg for needlepoint practice I started wondering how this little boo-boo was going to affect my riding.  Cindy assured me that if I kept it clean and and covered it shouldn’t be an issue.  She was right except for the fact that it zapped me of about 20% of my power when climbing hills, requiring me to use my smallest chain ring for the next few days.  

I would be remiss not to mention a few things about our hangout with Lucy (Honeymom) and Grover.  We got a tour of the Alabama campus, went to Dreamland BBQ, and most importantly just enjoyed their story telling.  Libby and I were both blown away by how sharp and humorous they were and came away with an unforgettable memory.  Last time I visited I was a preteen who was more concerned with the number of popsicles that Grover could hand me from the freezer or the fact that I would get to watch my first R-rated film, Speed, with their grand-kids.  This time around though we learned more about their story, how they met, why Grover hates flying, and their roles at the University as a medic, as parents, and as one of the more doting and playful couples I am sure I will ever encounter.  They told us about how much they love Alabama football, about the last time Grover fell off the roof (20 feet!), and shared Grover’s new cane (which is also a functioning taser and scared the crap out of Jim and I as Grover demo’d it in front of the group).  As we pulled out of the driveway the next day both Lucy and Grover matter-of-factly stated that this is “goodbye for now” because they will “see [us] in heaven” (as they are both in their later years).  Libby and I teared up, surprised with how willing they were to accept reality and appreciate not only what they have already received but also whatever years they will be afforded ahead.  If we see them again it will be a gift.  If not, we will cherish our time together and remember to be honest to ourselves and willing to to explore the world that surrounds us.

Shortly after departing Tuscaloosa and a few more days spent following the trail, the Gangl crew had to head back north for wedding and to resume their daily lives.  While passing around two pints of ice cream and mowing down on the leftover bacon around a campfire we found ourselves going through that trip phase of not wanting it to end.  The next morning when the RV rattled away we shared one last wave and felt immensely thankful that they had made it work (13 hours on the road is no small feat with little ones) to join us for nearly a week of our journey.  When looking back at our trip later in life our time with the Gangls will definitely be one of the highlights!

Pushing off from the riverside campground we headed towards the gulf coast where we were kindly greeted by screaming Google Emergency Alerts letting us know that hey: there might be a hurricane waiting for us when we arrive.  As many of you know, I am a fan of adventure and for me crazy weather is a reason to get excited rather than a reason to be fearful.  Growing up, I was constantly wrestling with what my future career would be: astronaut, storm chaser (thanks Twister and the MN Science Museum), or house painter.  This should explain my utter disregard of my own safety, my enthusiasm around biking directly into a hurricane, and my forgetfulness that I have a travel companion who might not share my same level of excitement for these things.

Here is a sample of our text string that day:

LIBBY: Hurricane Nate is hitting Mobile to Pensacola Saturday night.  That is exactly where we will be today and tomorrow (frowny face).  Please ask around for local knowledge; I will today as well.  The area is under a hurricane warning and I am getting a little freaked out.

LIBBY: (sends me a copy of an alert that says multiple tornadoes are anticipated)

JOE: Sounds exciting.  I will ask around.  The campground tonight requires us to be there by sunset btw

LIBBY: WHY AREN’T YOU CONCERNED?!? OUR LIFE IS IN THIS VAN.

I soon realized that I was being a little shortsighted and soon heeded Libby’s advocation of the safe option – traveling further east to stay the night at the edge of the storm as opposed to remaining in the heart of it.  As I headed out the morning of landfall (much to Libby’s dismay) with the sun still shining above, I felt like Hurricane Nate was being overblown by the media.  Later that day, however, as rain was flying sideways (literally 90 degrees) into my face and 40 mph wind gusts pummeled my drenched body, I called for the evac five miles from my destination.  Libby rolled in with the rescue vehicle and completed the extraction in a 15 minute break in the weather.  Safely in our hotel room with a six pack of beer and a few mixed drinks, Libby gave me a tour of what she had spent the afternoon preparing.  She had brought in everything from the van fearing that it would be picked up by the storms and re-homed in a different parking lot.  She set up a kitchen, storage area, bar, and was in the process of building a formidable blanket fort where we would wait out the storm.  Although she isn’t a doomsday prepper, she would get an all star nod from the 2017 survivalist team if there ever were one.

The rain came, accompanied by heavy winds, but luckily we were too far east to witness projectile coconuts or road signs.  We set up in Mickey D’s the next day to take advantage of the wi-fi and periodically checked the radar, searching for a chance to continue biking east.  As hope for a break in the weather waned I decided CARPE DIEM Hurricane Nate!  I am putting on my jacket and getting out of here! (Again to Libby’s dismay.)  After twenty miles or so with heavy rains I finally reached blue skies and enjoyed a humid but weather-free bike ride for the remainder of the day.  This put us on schedule to not only enjoy a rest day in Tallahassee, FL but also to have back-to-back rest days in Gator Country (Gainesville) with our friends Jon and Michelle.  After exploring a few local breweries (Joe doing Joe stuff) and checking out a few prospective locations to call home (one had bed bugs so that one was crossed off the list) we found an AirBnB on the east side of town which included an attention-hungry puppy named Omega, an Amazon FireStick, and an expansive Netflix subscription.  Between a few bike rides, trips to Publix (the Hy-Vee of the south), and episodes of Netflix’s new comedy Big Mouth, we squeezed in trips around the FSU campus.  We soon had to get back on the road to stay on track for Gainesville (a retreat that included our friend family, Big Nose IPAs, Tropical Stormies <a new take on Dark & Stormies>, SNES Contra, house shopping, and good ol’ fashioned poolside conversation) so I spent the next two rainy days in soaked bike gear, getting to a point where I had to stop to ring out my socks 2-3 times a day.  We made our way through the “worm fiddling capital of the world,” Libby saw a BUTT NAKED man riding his moped down the highway in the rain, and we called a few more campgrounds home.

As I rolled in a little earlier than Jon and Michelle were expecting me, I found that no one was home at the address Libby had given me.  I started to research the closest place to grab a quick bite to celebrate another day’s work when lo and behold an orange shoe-clad Dr. Adams strode down the hallway I was residing in.  We were both caught off guard and shared a hug followed by comments surrounding the surliness of my beard.  Then we stepped into the AC Ice Palace (they turned the temp even further down for us) that was their apartment and started enjoying the creature comforts that had since become foreign to us.  Clean tap water (Libby and I accidentally drank non-potable water in Wyoming and it did not end well), air conditioning, a bedroom (OMG with a bed!  It is the little things), and some of the most caring, giving, and exuberant people we know.  Everything we needed was offered without hesitation.  Jon even went to the grocery story, embracing my A.B.E. “always be eating” motto, and stocked up on snacks and key lime pie.  They treated us a to Thai and Filipino dinner the next night and invited two of the university friends.  After eating my body weight in lumpia and Libby’s mouth going numb from the Thai Mango salad (she has a minor food allergy but loves mangoes and therefore eats them anyways) we learned more about our dinner friends, a recently wed couple hailing from Mexico and Kazakhstan.  In short, Gainesville was glorious and we ended each night begrudgingly accepting the fact that we needed sleep in order to avoid being zombies the next day.

Was it hard to leave?  Most definitely.  I half expected Libby to fake a van breakdown so we would have darken the Adams’ doorway for a few more days during “repairs.”  But we knew we had to keep moving and upon arriving in St. Augustine, we realized HOLY CRAP – we are on the final map and final leg of the trip!  The past five days have included conversations about what we have enjoyed most, what we have learned, and reminding each other to be present and enjoy the home stretch where we intentionally laid out the mileage so that we could enjoy the fall weather.  Although we are enduring our third major heat wave (10-15 degrees higher than the seasonal norm!) I have been biking on the coast – salt spray blowing – for the past 200 miles with a huge smile on my face.  

I now spend my time on the bike reflecting on the achievement that is biking across the country, thinking about how Libby is a champion for gracefully living in 32 square feet with a zinc-coated, exhausted biker (I apologize for the protein shake farts), and wondering what journey we are going to go on next.  I intend on writing a little more after we conclude this leg of our journey and again when the ride is truly in our rear view mirror.  For now, I need to take my own recommendation to be present and focus on the joy of picking up my mom from the airport to spend the last five days of this trip with her in Key West.  

Although this post’s ending is abrupt I promise to elaborate more in the near future (hopefully in person with most of you).  This trip has changed Libby and I in ways that we cannot process at this time and for that we are thankful.  We took on the unknown and voluntarily experienced fear, adventure, elation, frustration, pain, and reward that is the expansion of our souls. Much more waits for us at the southernmost tip of America.

 

Until next time, much love.

Team Mash

2 thoughts on “Diary dump: culture by the spoonful & relaxation by the pint glass

    1. Libby and Joe, we laughed, teared up from sweet stories … then cried from laughing so hard! What an incredible journey, for your souls, your relationships, your interaction with the world and your sense of gratitude. Thank you for sharing this with all of us!

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