Date: March 6th 2017
From/To: Mary Esther FL/Fort Morgan (NOT Dolphin Island) AL
Daily Mileage: 95 miles
Total Mileage: 410 miles
Conditions: Sunshine, and the wind at my back (westward)
Florida saw me off as graciously as Alabama welcomed me. From the sugar-white sand on the Orange Beach penninsula to the winding park trails in Alabama’s beautiful forestlands, today was this most scenic leg of my trip thus far. Today was also a long trek, and I had to arrive at Fort Morgan before the last ferry departed for Dauphin Island at 6:00PM.
I left my motel around 8:00, on what I thought would be an average day on the road. Leaving Mary Esther looked like any other road I’ve been on with cars, shopping plazas, and gas stations. With little awareness of the days trek, I knew I would be hitting the coast soon but I wasn’t ready for the overwhelming sights I would come across. By the halfway point I wasn’t sure I would make it to my destination (I ended up not making it to Dauphin Island, but for a different reason) because I stopped so often to take pictures of my surroundings.
I started off on State Route 98 for about 10 miles, until I hit Navarre, FL. From there I took a bridge across the landlocked waterway to Santa Rosa Island. That peninsula ran about 20 miles through a desolate but beautiful roadway along the peninsula. With water on both sides of the road, and sandy beaches lit up by the sun, nothing could beat that ride.
Towards the end of this stretch, I was stopped by an older gentleman named Ron. He was with his wife driving down the road until they came across me, then stopping me out of curiosity. It turns out Ron is a huge traveler, having been all over the world climbing mountains, touring unfamiliar lands, and living abroad. He went on to tell me about a race he was familiar with in Haines Alaska, strongly recommending that I look into doing it someday. The race is called the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay. You look up the scenery along this wild race, its phenomenal. I checked it out, and it certainly seems like a challenging yet rewarding trek that I may look into. I’ve now come to realize that it’s conversations like this that really make my journey worthwhile. It’s the people who approach me (at times because they can’t help but wonder what the heck I’m doing) and spark up a conversation. Where this conversation goes is different every time, but it’s always meaningful in one way or another. I’ll have more encounters today, as mentioned below.
One of the funnier occurrences today happened as I was passing through a popular resort area, with many of these massive building stretching so far into the sky that they nearly blocked out the sun within the nearby surroundings. I was biking along minding my own business when I passed by a roadside bar. We can blame it on curiosity, but I certainly had other intentions when I looped back around and made my way to the counter-side. I was met by the bartender, who’s eyes ran from head to toe of this approaching tour biker who had no business stopping here. Regardless, I requested a shot of Jose Cuervo (I heard a shot of tequila a day is good for you so don’t be so quick to judge) and was accompanied by a tourist who gladly joined in on the excitement.
I’d feel like I’m leaving out a major part of the story if I didn’t mention that I dropped the first shot I was handed. It was more the wind blowing it off the bar table but I had to assume responsibility, and thinking I wouldn’t be reimbursed for that incident, I was preparing to leave until the bartender returned with a second tequila shot for me, only this time with twice as much tequila. So my lesson from that is to spill your drink, and maybe one time you’ll get twice what you had originally, just some food for thought (please sense my sarcasm there). Only adding to the story, I started off on my way after that, not even making it twenty feet until I had a flat front tire. The culprit… an earring. I had to assume this was an intended joke by some greater power, laughing at my now unfortunate happenstance. I looked down at my tire spinning around and noticed what looked like tin foil stuck in the tread when the wheel was spinning so fast. I slowed down and noticed that the earring had pierced itself perfectly through the tire, and as I pulled it out the tube immediatley went flaccid. In front of the bar that had just cut me some slack for spilling my drink, I then had to change a flat tire for twenty minutes. I’m sure they didn’t think I would make it much farther after seeing that. My ego was restored soon after when a biker gang drove by on their Harley’s, most of them giving me the biker wave. For those unfamiliar, this wave goes way back to 1904, when Harley-Davidson partners Arthur Davidson and William Harley passed each other and waved. It was noted by a passerby and believed to be etiquette among riders. Or so the tale goes. Until today it was only for motorcyclists (let me believe that please), so I felt pretty special. Soon after that I was back on State Route 98, which took me to Pensacola, FL. I really enjoyed this city, it came off as a small cozy place, with lots to do. I passed what looked like delicious restaurants, museums, and well kept parks and outdoor spaces. There were lot’s of fishing vessels along the shore, importing what seemed like the delicious seafood cuisine that one could find fresh in a local restauraunts.
Here’s some history for you… Pensacola has been known as the “City of Five Flags,” a reference to the five governments whose flags have flown over its soil: Spain, France, the United Kingdom, the Confederate States of America and the United States of America, in that order. As you may or may not have noticed, I mentioned that the second flag is Florida’s State Flag, rather than the Confederate Flag. There is a reason that this change has been made:
Due to the controversial nature of the battle flag, which opponents say is a symbol of racial hatred, its use was increasingly criticized after the civil rights movement. After black students protested the use of the flag at Escambia High School (along with the “Rebel” mascot and school song “Dixie”), it was deemed “racially irritating” by U.S. District Court Judge Winston E. Arnow in 1973 and barred from the school’s use. This in part led to riots at the school in 1976.
On January 25, 2000, Pensacola City Manager Tom Bonfield decided to replace the battle flag with the Stars and Bars flag, which was deemed more appropriate and “historically correct” by local historians, on several City of Pensacola facilities. The Pensacola City Council voted 7-2 on February 10 to confirm the use of the Stars and Bars flag instead of the battle flag. On the same day, however, the Escambia County Commission voted unanimously to keep the battle flag.
In 2015, after the Charleston church shooting, the Confederate flag was replaced by the Florida state flag. Learn more at: http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2015/06/25/city-pensacola-remove-confederate-flag/29284051/
So there’s your daily dose of history. Now back to the trip. After passing through Pensacola, I soon reached the Alabama border, and came across a really cool place called Flora-Bama. I didn’t have a chance to make it inside due to time limitations but I’ve only heard good things! If you’re ever passing through Alabama to Florida or visa versa on the costal route, you need to stop by.
As I entered Alabama I was taken inland for a segment of the ride. I entered an amazing place called the Backcountry Trail, which ran me through a scenic walking/biking path in Gulf State Park, Southern AL.
On my way through these winding pathways, I came across another biker named Dennis. He was visiting a friend for three weeks in Alabama, and had his road bike out for an afternoon trek. He told me he was planning a bike trip to Italy soon, saying its a gorgeous place to explore on the saddle. The conversation got interesting when he told me he was from Breckinridge CO, one of the places I’ll be passing through in early April. Dennis told me he’d most likely be around when I’m passing through which is awesome, so I hope we can cover some distance together when I get out there. Towards the end of our short ride, we exchanged information and parted ways.
As I continued westward towards the Mobile Bay Ferry, I entered yet another scenic byway along the Bon Secour Bay (the inner, eastern part of Mobile Bay). Along the way I passed an endless number of gorgeous beach houses, build up on stilts to protect them from hurricanes and tide surges. I learned later that these homes must be built on stilts to receive insurance backing for hurricanes.
As I closed in on my ending location I was flying down Route 180 towards the point of the peninsula, where Fort Morgan stands. I made it there in good time, around 4:15 to catch the ferry and……. it’s not running today. I called the number at the toll booth for information regarding the ferry and I was directed to an automated message, telling me the ferry was not running due to high winds. Clueless of what to do next, I made my way out to the point and took some shots of Fort Morgan.
After about an hour out there I came up with my game plan for the night. With no ferry across Mobile Bay to Dolphin Island, I was left with either camping out (next to the many “Warning, Snakes” signs on the surrounding land) or going back ten miles to pay for yet another hotel night. I went with Option C; approaching the first stranger I saw and asking him or her if I could stay overnight until the ferry comes in the morning. You have no idea (unless you do) how awkward it is the first time you roll down someone’s driveway with nothing but a story, and a tour bike to back it up. The first house I came across I saw a person unloading his pickup truck and carrying some stuff into his beach house. I pulled into his driveway and introduced myself. His name was Ed, and he was just arriving to his beach home for the next couple days on a retreat with his wife, Brenda, and another couple, Linda and Gerald. After hearing my story, and after asking me if I was “packing” (I said no, I’m from New York, only to be called a damn Yankee, all in a joking spirit of course), they welcomed me into their home and set me up in their bunker house. They had children who I’m sure stayed there when they came to visit. The house was gorgeous, accompanied by a dock on the shore side, housing a center console fishing boat out towards the end. The view from the end of the dock was gorgeous, overlooking Mobile Bay and the constant action of freighters moving in and out of port, and several gas rigs rising proudly out of the water. I wasn’t aware the Mobile Bay was such a busy import/exporting location, but I certainly know that now.
After a warm shower, I cleaned myself up and made my way back to the main house, where I joined the two couples in conversation, overlooking the bay in their screened off porch. The drink of choice, Tennessee Bourbon, on the rocks. When I told them I was used to mixed drinks with coke or sprite, they laughed in my face. Talk about a culture shock. I had my first drink, which was a little rough going down, but after that, the second and third ones went down like water. I think I found my new drink of choice. We had shrimp’n dip for dinner, I had a baked potato made special for me due to my long ride that day. After dinner we sat for a few hours, talking about all sorts of things like sports, hobbies, traveling, politics (under a Republican roof), and many other things. Ed, Brenda, and Gerald were all Alabama graduates, while Linda graduated from Auburn University. We shared many good laughs, and I learned quite a lot from these wonderful people. I had a chance to talk with Ed about his life experiences, he told me the main difference between post-college life now versus his time was the war. When Ed and Gerald were graduating from college, the typical man was enlisted into service, outbound to Vietnam War. It was interesting to hear his perspective on serving his country, the lessons he learned from that experience remain influential in his life today. After talking with these folks I took away a lot of good advice and perspective. The main message was that were not all that different, despite our different upbringings. We have our differences certainly, but when you peel down to the core we share the most similar qualities all people have. An enjoyment of good company, a life long pursuit of learning, an openness to people of different backgrounds, and most importantly, a sense of kind heartedness and hospitality. We didn’t stay up very late, I was in bed by 10:00PM. I had to be up early the next day to catch the ferry!
Enjoy The Ride,