I awoke at about 7am, but really didn’t want to pull myself out of my warm bed except for the knowledge that there was a donut shop across the street. With visions of sugar and grease in my head, I showered, dressed, packed up and rode across the street – only to find that the shop was closed. Damn.
Riding through Oberlin, I hoped I would find a place to eat, but there was nothing until I came to the outskirts of town and found “Keith’s Corner”consisting of a car wash, grocery store and café. I stopped at the café and pulled out my lock to lock my bike. As I did, a woman who was smoking a cigarette nearby said: “Honey, y’all don’t need to worry about lockin’ your bike. Nobody gonna steal it around here. If they do we just shoot ‘em.”
Opening the door to the café, I was met with a blast of hot greasy air. My glasses immediately fogged with oil and my hair took on the appearance of Antonio Banderas’ – except grey and much shorter. I stepped to the counter and ordered a BLT and a ham and cheese omelet and grabbed a cup of coffee. As I did, a white-haired gentleman with large frame glasses called me to his table. His name is Jim and he was excited to hear that I had been to Chico, California, where he was born. Jim fell in love with a local girl and moved to Oberlin to be with her. Along the way, they raised a family and for 45 years, he was the town pharmacist. Since his retirement twenty years ago (Jim is 85), he has been coming to this café every morning and holding court. The banter between him and the waitresses was beyond amusing. And, Jim was full of information. I commented about how the scenery was changing from crayfish farms to pine trees and he explained that in this area the pine trees are one of the major crops. Farmers plant 1,000 trees per acre and harvest a portion of them each decade. Trees that are 10 years are used for garden stakes; at 20 years they are used for furniture; and at 30 years, telephone poles, but much of it is also used for producing paper products. The tree of choice is the loblolly pine, which grows quickly in this environment.
While Jim was educating me about Oberlin’s economics, history and infrastructure, the Chief of Police arrived. Jim introduced him to me and we had breakfast together and listened to Jim expound without pause on a broad range of subjects. I had the feeling many locals have this same experience every morning.
After I left Oberlin, I rode for about thirty minutes before being hailed by a rider going the opposite way. He was dressed head to toe in camouflage with a large Fu Man Chu mustache and riding a mountain bike. He asked if I knew anything about bicycles because his was having trouble changing gears. I took a look at his chain and saw that it was almost rusted solid. I flipped the bike over, pulled out some lubricant from the pocket of my pannier and soaked the chain. After a few minutes of pedaling and playing with the shifters, things started to loosen up and he was able to get some additional gears. He was ecstatic. You would have thought I had just given him a kidney transplant.
I rode for another 25 miles along pine tree farms just as Jim had described. It was my shortest mileage day on the trip, but I decided to make De Ridder my end destination. One of the lessons I have learned is to avoid the “Sirens of the Road” (a term I picked up from Don). This refers to something many touring cyclists face when going through small towns and rural areas. You roll into a place with a nice campsite or hotel, but it is still early afternoon. You feel strong and want to get in some additional miles. The sirens are calling to you to keep riding. The next thing you know it’s dark and you can’t find any place to stop for the evening. I’ve had this happen several times. Once, I gave serious thought to sleeping in a stack of large concrete tubes by the side of the road near some road construction, but ultimately managed to find a hotel after riding an additional five miles in the dark.
To avoid falling into this trap, I decided to stop in De Ridder, which is the last major town on my route until Austin. I found a wonderful place known as Pleasant Hill RV and Campground that caters to touring cyclists. It has laundry, showers and a kitchen all for $5 for cyclists. Among cyclists riding the southern tier route, Pleasant Hill has become legend. “Miss Pat” and her husband have run the place for the last five years and have gone out of their way to make cyclists feel like they have a special place. They go so far as to read blogs of those riding the route to see when they might expect riders and then welcome them by name when they arrive.
After I arrived, I met Irene and Jan. Jan is riding across the US as well, and her friend Irene is driving a support van. We had a wonderful conversation – the kind that you can only have with people who have had a unique shared experience. And, to make things even better, Irene and Jan drove in to town and brought me back some beer to enjoy with my dinner.
Tomorrow, I cross into Texas. Yee-haw?