Tuesday 25th November. Brunswick, Georgia -> Jacksonville, Florida,USA
The ringing of an old school bell echoed through the woods, signalling the early morning yoga classes. It was eight-thirty. This had been lauded with great enthusiasm last night, but not being such a yoga-meister myself, I rolled over and went back to sleep. Hopefully I wasn't committing some sort of forest faux pax by failing to appear at the yoga roll up. The forest air was damp and cold. After a warm day yesterday, the nighttime temperature had dropped dramatically. The two light blankets I'd scored from the laundry proved to be totally inadequate, and sometime during the night, I'd had to get up and pull out my sleeping bag. Even cocooned in it, I was none too cozy. There'd have to be a better reason than yoga, for me to drag myself from bed.
Soon enough though, I needed to make the inevitable bathroom run. By then, the thought of an open air hot shower and a cup of coffee gave me reason to get my day underway.
A few sleepy souls stood around the tiny campfire behind the domed buildings. As I shuffled past, they greeted me by yawning and raising one hand in a weak wave. A young girl was just leaving the shower, wrapped in a towel. She smiled as we met on the boardwalk. The hot water had a distinct sulphurous odour, but was such a pleasure after a cold night. I probably spent longer under the shower than I should've, but I couldn't see anyone waiting, so what the heck.
Coffee was brewing in the kitchen. I poured a cup and joined the folk around the fire. We swapped stories of our adventures and shared our opinions on the state of the Union and the world at large- George W's ears must have been burning. Ken made a huge pot of oatmeal, and invited everyone to help ourselves. The hot oatmeal and the small fire were just what the doctor ordered. As the warmth started to return to my body, I realized it was time to think about making a move. Jacksonville, Florida was only seventy miles away, but after yesterday's dismal hitching, who knows how long it could take? Afternoon was already upon us in the forest, and I bid my hippy friends farewell. If I have time, maybe I'll be able to drop in again on my return north.
Ken the resident oatmeal chef, juggler, unicyclist and stiltwalker, drove me the two miles to the interstate in his huge blue bus. Much as I tried, I couldn't feel positive about the day ahead of me. No-one seemed to have the faintest intention of stopping for me at the on-ramp, so I walked to the gas station. I spoke to a handful of drivers there, but no-one seemed overly enthusiastic. It was gonna be one of those days, I could just feel it. As I walked back to the on-ramp, a little black sports car pulled over. The driver was a lawyer on his way to court about twenty miles down the road. His trunk was full, and there was no back seat, so I had to nurse my backpack. Mind you, a ride is a ride and I wasn't complaining. He was interesting actually- he works in 'drug court', a special court set up to deal with drug addicts whose criminal behaviour was a result of their addiction. Instead of filling the jails with addicts, who fall back into their old habits when released, drug court 'sentences' suitable candidates to a two year outpatient treatment program. Over that time, they attend classes, report to the court regularly, and submit to regular drug testing. To me, it sounds like an intelligent way to treat an ever-growing problem.
After a longer than usual wait where Robert the cigar smoking lawyer dropped me, an African-American family of four picked me up. The father was also smoking a cigar. Lucky for me I like the smell of cigars. That ride still didn't get me all the way to Jacksonville. I was just across the border, with about twenty miles to go. I stood at that on-ramp for far too long. The Puerto Rican guy who finally stopped for me was going all the way to downtown Jacksonville- thank God- but wouldn't take me all the way! What??
He told me that downtown Jacksonville was so rough he wouldn't want to drop me off there. It was almost totally black, he said. I told him that Africa was almost totally black too, and I managed to get out of there in one piece. He wouldn't hear of it. My problem was that I didn't know exactly which part of town my host lived in. Surely the most sensible thing to do would be to go to the centre of town and call her from there. My driver was aghast that I'd even consider stepping out of a vehicle into the perils of central Jacksonville. I explained that I was in South Central L.A at night just after the 1992 riots, and that just a few weeks ago, I'd been hitchhiking in the Bronx. How bad could sunny Jacksonville be? He wouldn't be swayed. He drove out of his way, to deposit me safely at a gas station near the airport, twelve miles from the city centre. I phoned Summer, my host for tonight. She said she lives within walking distance of downtown. #$@*!
Now I was starting to lose enthusiasm. There was no bus service from the airport to downtown, according to my waiter at the nearby Waffle House, where I stocked up on calories. The nearest bus route didn't come within three miles. The thought of walking three miles with a heavy pack dragging down on my sore shoulder, almost made me give up and flag down a taxi. Instead I bought a cup of coffee at the gas station and started harassing the drivers who came through. Of course, they were all headed to the airport, not to downtown. One young guy was friendly, though. He said he was off to the airport to pick up his girlfriend, but if I was still waiting when he came back, he'd pick me up. I wasn't about to hold my breath!
Half an hour passed and still no ride. A taxi would cost a fortune, especially at this time of day; it was already after five o'clock and traffic was heavy. Then a maroon sedan pulled into the gas station and the couple in the front both waved to me. It was Shea, the guy who'd said he'd be back. He was back, accompanied by his girlfriend Misti. They were on their way to the Keys for Thanksgiving, and were happy to do a fellow traveller a good turn on such an occasion. They drove me right to Summer's door. Thanks Shea and Misti, but the website you gave me (wildernessway.org) isn't correct, Misti. If you send me the correct URL, I'll post a link. Misti works for a Christian organization that helps troubled girls. *thinking back on some of my ex-girlfriends, Misti and I have something in common*
Summer is off to New Zealand the day after tomorrow. That's why she'd told me that if I wanted to stay with her, I'd have to be here by the 25th. I thought I might be a valuable source of information for her, but she had everything pretty much mapped out and didn't seem to need much advice. Like most Americans, Summer can't get much time off work, so it's only a short trip for her, just eight days in New Zealand. Still, it's her first adventure outside her home country and she's going it alone, which I think is great. Ah, it takes me back to my first trip.... *yawn* Who yawned?!
Seriously though, if you need a cure for your insomnia, have a read of some of my early adventures around The Land Of The Long White Cloud. That's New Zealand, in case you didn't know. Click on any of the photos below
Summer and her friend Justin and myself, walked around the corner to a Mexican restaurant. "It's filthy, but the food's great" Summer warned me. To me, that's a recommendation, not a warning. The margaritas were hearty, the food was authentic Mexican, and I was a little too generous with the tabasco, beads of sweat forming on my brow. We went for a walk along the river after dinner, and once again I was too tired to write my journal. I stretched out on the comfy sofa and went straight to sleep.