Monday, May 15, 2017

Heading Home: Auspicious Start, Auspicious Middle, Ok End

Day 1 - Sept. 16, 2017 - Jackson, MS > Twiltley Branch ACOE Campground

Knowing the sun would be Southern hot all day long, I set my alarm for bright and early in the hopes of being on the road by 8am.  That would at least buy me a few hours of freedom from the high humidity that set in later in the day, a welcomed reprieve from the 24/7 damp air of the ride down.  Seriously, I have never spent so much time wiping moisture off the screen of my phone on cloudless days than I had on the ride down.  I couldn't control the weather, but I could at least control my schedule, right?

Control is an illusion, people.  I had about as much control over the time I woke up as I did the inbound weather patterns.  Starting an hour and a half late was a problem not just because of the humidity, but also because my next stop was over 100 miles at the Twiltley Brand Campground, north of Meridian, MS on the Okatibbee Lake.  With my pacing issues, a late start on Day 1 meant late starts for the rest of the tour home.  Picking up where I left off...

It was fine, though.  A late start wasn't the end of the world.  Rides usually work out regardless of hits and misses in planning.  After showering up and giving my bicycle a last minute pre-ride once over (that is my new favorite phrase), I said my goodbyes, gave my farewell thank yous, and hit the road.  Late start or not, it was a beautiful day.  The sun was out but not menacing, the morning humidity was low, and I was well rested from staying in bed past my alarm.  It was going to be a good day even if it hadn't started as early as planned.

I'd only barely started the ride (less than 100 ft down the first road of my return tour), when Tibor slammed to a halt.  Lurching forward, I was barely able to keep my balance and dismount.  As I climbed off, dread started to rise.  I'd inspected every bolt on the frame, lubed every moving part, and filled the 700x32 tires to 90psi.  If my bike slammed to a halt like that while on a wide open road, something catastrophic must have happened.  Maybe my frame was cracked and had fallen apart under touring weight.  Maybe a hub failed and my tire slammed into the seat stay.  I held my breath as I inspected the rear of my bike, bracing for the worst...

And the worst was a loose skewer.  Of all the things I'd checked on my bicycle prior to departure, the one thing I hadn't bothered to examin was the tightness of my axle skewers.  I use security enhanced skewers, not quick release, and they must have loosened while barreling down the highway on the way back from Burning Man.  Yeesh.  I felt like an idiot.  I'd overslept and  I'd let a loose skewer nearly knock me off my bike.  If the start was auspicious, it was all on me.  Tightened, I re-hit the road.

Knowing bad things come in threes, I assumed there would be some other problem (self-inflicted or otherwise) before the day was done.  This pessimistic assumption was quickly confirmed by a rubbing sound coming from my front tire.  That skewer was plenty tight, but the fender was plenty loose.  Bouncing around the automobile rippled flats of the Black Rock Desert had demolished the connection points on my front fender, and it was held on precariously at best, with duct tape being the primary connection method.  I'd already hand bent the guide rods so many times they looked like an EKG read-out, and now there was no unbending them off the tire.  I pulled over at an intersection and thought about my options, and as with many unique bicycle problems, zip ties were going to be the solution.  Always carry zip ties, folks.  Between them and duct tape, many problems can be at least reduced if not resolved.  I leaned my bike against a stop sign, fished around in my rear pannier, pulled out some zip ties from my repair kit, fashioned a fix of sorts, and hit the road.  My third setback overcome, I finally felt free to conquer the road.

As a quick aside for anyone that's never been down to Mississippi, a lot of homes have a small pond out front, if not multiple around the property.  Often looking a bit green for a swimming hole, I wasn't quite sure why everyone seemed to have one, as if state mandated.  It was explained to me that prior to running water being plumbed throughout the cities, these ponds were used by the fire departments if they were called to put out a blaze.  All the homes had well water, which is great for personal use, but terrible for battling fires, so ponds were dug out and filled to create aesthetically pleasing emergency preparedness plans.

Maybe don't swim in that.

Back on the road, I still had over 100 miles to go, but at least my bad tidings had come and gone in three and I was safe for the rest of the day.  I'd left my headphones in Moab a few days back, so my first stop was going to be at the first store I found, which happened to be a Dollar General.  As I pulled in and locked up, I realized I'd never put my tool kit away.  It was just sitting on top of my wide open rear pannier.  Crap.  I quickly took inventory of everything in that bag and was happy to find that I'd only lost some zip ties.  Ok.  Maybe this was the real third tiding and sleeping in didn't count since I slept in a lot of times on tour.  For real this time, my third bad thing had now come and gone and I was safe.  Seriously.

A few hours in without any trouble, I still felt safe.  At least from supernatural and other unexplainable phenomena.  I didn't feel super safe from cars.  Most of the ride that day was along US-80, a highway with a shoulder slightly broader than my actual shoulders, half of which's width was deep rutted rumble strips.  If I stayed on the right side of the line, I was safe from cars but would more than occasionally run into the frame pounding strips.  If I stayed to the left of the line, the ride was smooth, but I was assaulted by horn honks from angry motorists.  It wasn't ideal, but the one plus of the highway was that it kept me within reach of civilization, meaning I could stop at a nearby Wal-Mart to replace the crappy dollar store earbuds I'd purchased.  If I was going to be uncomfortable or dead, at least I'd do it while properly enjoying my music.  I hit a small snag when my debit card was declined, but my credit card worked fine.  No big deal.

Continuing on US-80, I had music, a bike without issue, and heat and humidity that were so much more manageable than they had been in July, so I was feeling good.  Good enough to treat myself to a gas station sandwich for lunch just past midday.  Given my day's luck thus far, I probably shouldn't have been tempting the fates with a convenience store pimento cheese sandwich nearing its expiration date, but hey, you only live once.  What was the worst that could happen?  Some roadside barfing?  Raccoons would clear that up ASAP.  While I sat on the raised sidewalk outside of the station, I checked a voicemail that had come in while I'd been riding.  It was my bank.  It all made sense now!  My debit card was declined because I was using it in Mississippi and they forgot I was on vacation!  The fraud prevention system works!

Well, kinda.  The problem wasn't that I was using mine in Mississippi as much as someone was also using it in Florida.  A hundred dollars in fraudulent gas, snacks, and sodas later, my bank froze my account.  Luckily I had some cash on hand, but I wouldn't be getting a new card until I reached South Carolina.  The proletariat never fails to hold itself down.  We keep stealing from each other rather than from those that have far more than they need.  Batman could never exist in real life because Bruce Wayne's parents would never have been walking down that alley.

Ok, so maybe bad things happen in five?  Or maybe it was just one of those days.  I was starting to chalk it up to the latter.  As the evening sun set, a wall of humidity arose in its place.  I remembered that humidity.  Hadn't felt it in a while, but I remembered it.  Fortunately, I was just about to get off of US-80.  If I wasn't going to be comfortable, at least I was going to be safe.  The smooth, empty side-roads were exactly what I needed.  I had both lanes to myself and any approaching cars could be seen minutes before their arrival.

Most importantly, no more ball-busting rumble strips.  Just silky, smooth macadam.  Smooth macadam that eventually turned to rough macadam that was still better than rumble strips.  And then there were some rocks mixed in.  And then the macadam disappeared entirely and the road became just rocks, but still, they were smooth rocks.  And then came my old nemesis... sand.  After a minute of trying to ride on loose sand that had settled at the bottom of a hill, I gave up and found an alternate route that only added a mile or so.  Still better than rumble strips, I think.  Maybe?  That was until the next patch of sand, which, while shorter than the previous, had no alternative route and needed to be powered through.  Oh, and it had dogs.  Lots of dogs.  A lot of rural Mississippi has unleashed dogs running around at night.  This area was no exception.  Luckily, only the barkers seem to be running around late night, not the biters.  Those mutts wouldn't get closer than ten feet away.

I had somehow wound my way out of the grasp of civilization.  I couldn't hear the sound of cars in any direction and the only light shining on my path came from the moon above.  All around me were thick woods, something I didn't expect in Mississippi, and below me was poorly maintained roads itching to knock me off of Tibor.  I saw that a short while after Decatur, MS, I'd reach Route 494, which should provide smooth sailing to Twiltley.  Just needed to get there.

After 494, it was smooth sailing.  With the exception of the giant, headless snake I found at an intersection in Collinsville, MS.  I don't know why there was a 6' long, decapitated constrictor laying on the sidewalk next to a stop sign.  I kept moving.

When I finally arrived at the Twiltley Branch campground, I was exhausted.  It was after 2 in the morning, I'd ridden over 110 miles, and I was in no way prepared to do either that length or duration of a ride.  I had started my ride down from Philly with a poorly planned century, and having not learned from my mistakes, started my ride back with an even worse century.  But at least it was done.  The campground was closed, so I snuck in, found a spot, pitched a tent, showered, and passed out.  Looked like it was going to be another late start tomorrow...

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