When I woke up the next morning, I found a giant bruise on the back of my thigh. The bruise hadn't been there the day before and I hadn't bumped into anything recently, so it could only have been from a somnambular fight club or an overnight ghost assault, both of which are movies I would watch. Other than that, I was feeling pretty good. I'd iced the back of my ankle overnight, so even that was feeling pretty good. I felt even better when I found out the continental breakfast included waffles.
Now, I am not really a big waffle guy, but there are two places I will always eat them. Waffle House is the first, and really, I shouldn't go there ever, but I do, and I get a waffle, and I regret it every time. The second, and the one I never regret, is at a self-service motel continental breakfast. You know the ones. The squeeze bottle of batter next to a big auto-timed waffle iron that needs to be pretreated with generic Pam? It's so good, right? I mean, it's not, but you know, it is.
Well rested and well fed, I hit the road ready for a big day. I had close to a century ahead of me, but I felt like I could conquer. I lost most of that feeling within ten minutes. That's about how long it took for me to be dripping with sweat again. The South is the worst.
After a few hours of tempting the heat exhaustion fates, I decided I'd earned an ice cream sandwich. I found a nice convenience store and parked my bike along side the produce stand next door. I was going through my handlebar bag, searching for my wallet, when I flicker of movement drew my gaze upward. And what did I see perched a few feet above me, from a piece of outward jutting wood? If you had guessed "doberman", you would have been close. No, it was a spider approximately the size of a doberman. Holy shit did I jump back. The spider was so big that I didn't even take a picture of it for fear it would steal my phone. You better believe I ran, almost dragging Tibor behind me.
Surviving that arachnid encountered made me feel even more deserving of an ice cream sandwich, so I pushed my bike over to the gas station and leaned it against the wall. As I walked over to the convenience store door, a older gentleman looking up from pumping gas and asked where I was riding to. I told him Philly, and then he proceeded to tell me about how he'd met a guy that had ridden over 10,000 miles a year or two prior. Cool. That guy again.
I got a longer story this time. Apparently, over one winter, old gas pump guy met cooler than me bike guy as he was on his way west. It was wintery and cold and CTMBG looked ill prepared for the ride ahead of him. CTMBG was also unaware of the snowy climb ahead as well. So OGPG took him in for the night to make sure he didn't freeze to death. Weeks later, OGPG ended up getting a postcard from Mt. Rainier sent to him by CTMBG. Some time after that, he received a postcard from Alaska. CTMBG really was a lot CTM. But I had an ice cream sandwich and at least he couldn't take that away from me.
On a side note, this was not my first tale of winter riders that seemed hellbent on dying on the road. Just last winter, a buddy of mine that works at a shop in South Philly met a guy that was headed to Texas while wearing clothes that were barely suitable for November, let alone winter-proper. He was practically frozen when my buddy brought him to the shop and helped outfit him in proper winter wear that was on its way to Goodwill. That cyclist was a very lucky guy. People, do not rely on the kindness of strangers. There are some strangers that don't have much kindness to share.
After that it was a long stretch of dead reptiles until I would reach Hagan-Stone Park Campground. I saw a big, turquoise snake squished along the side of the road, as well as a bunch of little turtles. I'd officially moved out of armadillo country. I hadn't seen a squished one of those in days. But while out of armadillo country, I thankfully was still in the heart of Pimento Cheese country. Not much could have topped the homemade Pimento Cheese sandwich I ate for lunch at a bait shop/convenience store. Way creamier than any brand name, gas station Pimento Cheese.
It was after dark when I finally reached the already-closed-for-the-evening campground. Well, dark between lightning strikes. All around me, lightning lit up the sky as a storm thundered its way towards me. I'd ridden all day without bad weather, and if I kept a good pace while setting up camp, I could be in bed before it reached me.
Hagan-Stone, while mostly for RVs, had a nice tent section winding through the woods. For the first time in a few parks, I'd be camping under a bit of cover, away from the whirring sound of generators and safe from the gusting winds whipping the tops of the tall trees that surrounded me. Those tall trees also provided cover to the deer living in the woods, and I almost collided with a bambi as I sped through that nearly empty campground trying to reach camp before the storm reached me. That wouldn't have been fun for either one of us.
As I reached camp, the race was on. I pitched my tent and stowed my gear in record time, drops of rain just starting to reach me through the leafy canopy. After slamming down dinner, I ran up to the showers. Once I reached the showers, the sky opened up and it poured. I'd just made it. That night I slept in my dry tent with an ice pack on my ankle, listening to the rain beating on my tent and hoping all the while that the storm would take the summer heat out with it on its way East.