2021: A Year of Pedaling (Away from COVID-19!)

Greetings: Well, one activity we could still safely engage in during yet another odd-usual year of 2021 was bicycling. So, pedal we did.

Elizabeth and Don, Bridge of Dreams, Knox County, Ohio. on the OTET 

Don and I packed up our panniers in late August and departed for the exotic Midwest and its delightful Ohio River to Erie Canal Trail.

Hey, who wants to sit at home when you can spend your vacation camping/riding 689.5 miles from Cleveland to Cincinnati — and back!?!

Kudos to Ohioans for stitching together a network of rail trails and a towpath to immerse bicyclists in a mix of urban and rural settings, including Amish and Mennonite country. A welcome lesson in culture, geography and the natural world.

I didn’t grow up in Ohio, but both of my parents did. We were overjoyed to be welcomed by a slew of relatives along the route … which even included a book signing for Outpedaling ‘The Big C’: My Healing Cycle Across America” in good ol’ Mount Vernon.

Then, I guess I couldn’t stop pedaling. I’d asked my editors for time off in late October so I could join the last leg of an excursion along the East Coast Greenway, some 744 miles between Savannah, Georgia and Key West.

This was a much cushier deal that I had learned about as a guest on The Outspoken Cyclist podcast. Hotels or B&Bs every night…real pillows … remarkable meals … and a van that not only carried my belongings but offered snacks and water along the route. Whoa!

Florida is quirky, but I had a hoot immersing myself in the lives of osprey, sea birds, Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, gopher tortoises and a plethora of sea turtles. I even visited a turtle hospital in Marathon.

Sea turtle at The Turtle Hospital, Marathon, Fla.

Of course, having electrons in the evening (tents don’t come with those!) meant I shared bits and photos via Facebook. You should really read it here:

https://www.facebook.com/elizabeth.mcgowan.author/

Well, you just should, darn it,  because it’s light, pithy, poignant and covers only two weeks. But for the timid, I’m sharing the flavor of my daily dispatches through my epilogue here:

EPILOGUE: PEDALING THE EAST COAST GREENWAY

SAVANNAH, GEORGIA TO KEY WEST, FLORIDA

744 MILES: Oct. 22-Nov. 4, 2021

The southernmost point on Route 1 in Key West

Phew! Home again, home again after an exhilarating adventure in the American tropics.

Truth be told, I felt like somewhat of an interloper in this main Key West photo because I hadn’t pedaled to the famed Southernmost Buoy from the Maine/Canada border as most of these folks pictured here had … more than 3,000 miles.

But, alas, I’ll cut myself some slack. Timberline Adventures had purposely broken the greenway ride into four geographical sections so bicyclists with limited time could sign up for the segments that best matched their schedules.

After a Friday, Nov. 5 breakfast at the Banana Cafe in Key West, we packed up the van and trailer and headed to Miami, in pouring rain, to connect with other modes of transportation. Just because you ride your bike to the tip of Florida, it doesn’t mean you have to pedal it north.

I was let out at the Miami train station late that afternoon. My train didn’t leave until early Saturday morning, but I didn’t mind the idea of having time and solitude to write up my last ruminations on the ride, including this epilogue.

But we know how best-laid plans turn out, right? The Amtrak attendant informed me that the station closed at 7 that night and wouldn’t reopen for 12 hours. Huh? What major metropolitan area does that? And this station isn’t exactly near any amenities.

The idea of hauling my intact bike (one of the reasons I chose Amtrak) my internal frame backpack and my heavy computer bag anywhere else at this juncture made me want to take a nap. So, I did. Well, not right away. But I spent that night sleeping, on and off, on a metal bench in front of the station. My only company was a lone opossum scoping out the parking lot for snacks and slightly curious about the supine mammal.

My motto is, if you’re doing any traveling, you need to be prepared to pivot.

By 5 a.m., other early arrivals were also surprised to find the station doors locked. Outside bench space was soon at a premium. I was first in line to check my bags and bike when it opened. The station might have been a disappointment, but the train wasn’t. Everybody complied with the mask mandate, the outlets worked, the Wi-Fi was reliable enough and the seats had plenty of leg room.

OK, so the Amtrak menu was, uh, limited. I chose a hot dog, noodle soup and hot tea from a menu of maybe 10 items, most of it beer. Good grief, I figured I would somehow muddle through. After all, I’d just spent two weeks dining on delectable scallops, clams, crabs, fish, stone crabs and other mouth-watering victuals.

As the train neared Washington, D.C. Sunday morning (and on time, Hallelujah!), I thought about all of the sights, sounds and smells I had observed and absorbed during the last two-plus weeks.

Atlantic bottlenose dolphin off Georgia coast

An image that endures is one I didn’t see with my own eyes. It was painted eloquently by the boat captain who ferried us from St. Marys (no apostrophe, no kidding!), Georgia to Fernandina Beach, Florida, two weeks prior.

He explained that newborn baby Atlantic bottlenose dolphins need movement to stimulate their tiny lungs into action. Their mothers do this by balancing the little ones on their noses until the baby is inhaling and exhaling air regularly.

Just thinking about that breathing bond makes me smile. The lesson? Gulp deeply with your own lungs … and venture out and explore a corner of the universe that intrigues you …

… and don’t forget the chocolate, for pity’s sake!

Sunrise, Cocoa Beach, Fla.
2021: A Year of Pedaling (Away from COVID-19!)

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