Day 49: Buccaneer State Park to Pascagoula, MS (61 miles) May 3, 2021
With thunder booming until 1am and every rustle causing a panic stricken bolt upright from a half conscious slumber, I did not sleep well. When we did wake up, we were attacked by mosquitos (better than raccoons!) and packed up quickly. Sheena discovered yet another flat and changed it quickly before breakfast. We really should’ve changed our tires before this trip, or at least in Austin.
Riding out of the state park to the gulf was breathtaking. It’s so deja vuish to the coast of California. The sand, the seagulls, the salty taste in the air, and the carefree lively towns that call the gulf coast home. As Sheena put it, it’s a reality check as to how far we’ve come. Saying goodbye to the pacific coast only to ride in the desert so long was sorrowful – seeing and riding along the gulf coast breathed new life into us… and also put things into perspective- our ride is almost over!
Without access to coffee immediately upon waking, we returned to our old ways and rode 13 miles to a coffee shop. The next 20 miles were gorgeous until we rode into Biloxi. The Mississippi version of Atlantic City (all day I had to remind myself I was in MS, I didn’t know it had such built up Gulf towns. It truly reminded me of the Jersey Shore), Biloxi is a huge bustling town with a ton of traffic. Riding on the sidewalk was rough and inconsistent, but riding in the street garnished near passes, honks, middle fingers, and an interesting choice in name calling. Neither decision was favorable, so we did the best we could.
After taking 5 years off my life, we made it out of Biloxi and had relatively smooth sailing to Pascagoula, our destination for tonight. There were talks about tacking on 20 more miles to meet The Guys, but the stress of today’s battle with traffic left us deflated and ready for a long-term break. We checked into Studio 6 and collapsed for a while. It’s a really awesome motel for the price. An extended stay, we have our own little kitchenette! After shopping and dinner, we’re ready to just pass out. It’s our last night in Mississippi, what a long stay we’ve had here!
Day 50: Pascagoula MS to Gulf Shores AL (72 miles) May 4, 2021
We left the motel at 7:45am with gusto. We had to catch a 12:30pm ferry across Mobile Bay, a 40 mile ride. Meeting The Guys halfway as a break left us plenty of time to achieve that goal. With the ferry leaving every hour and a half and bad weather predicted for the afternoon, we had to make that ferry in order to avoid getting stuck in Dauphin Island.
Our plans were derailed almost instantly when Sheena got a flat 2 miles in. No biggie, we had a decent time cushion to allow for these kinds of hiccups. We were soon back on the road and reached Alabama quickly. We’ll be in Florida tomorrow so we won’t have too much time to explore Alabama, but it greeted us as all the states have since Texas – with a flat. Again, this misfortune struck Sheena. With thin walls and balding tread, this may continue to be a trend unless we can find a new tire.
With 15 miles to go and only 1.5 hours to make it to the ferry, we were running low on time and panic started to set in. We flew. The guys were already waiting for us at the ferry, adding another layer of anxiety to our already rushed state. Getting to Dauphin Island we hit pretty severe headwinds for 10 miles. Sheena took the lead which relieved me from exhaustion by allowing me to not only draft, but also refreshed me by showering in her sweat. Disgusting, but when it’s humid and swelteringly hot, anyone’s sweat flying into your face is a blessing.
With 12 minutes to spare, we made it!! Almost passed out from exhaustion (seriously felt like a college track sprint workout), we were reunited with The Guys as a hot disgusting sweaty mess. But we didn’t miss the ferry. Our efforts were not in vain.
As with our ferry ride in 2018 where I ran into Dr. Pepper of Married at First Sight fame, I had another run in with a reality TV personality, or at least his relative. Russel Hantz is known as the #1 villain of Survivor, a show I still hope to be on one day. But seeing as he was working on the ferry, I did not stop to strike up conversation. Missed opportunity to have an in on the show, darn.
After the ferry all 5 of us enjoyed lunch together at Tacky Jacks. Full and hot, we set out for Gulf Shores. Jim led the way and don’t let the “I’m retired” facade fool you – Jim is strong and fast for a 65 year old man. Us 30 year olds struggled to keep up. Huffing and puffing and pouring out sweat, we reached the point where their path and ours split. They have a hotel and we’re staying at the State Park. But we’re ending up at the same place tomorrow, so I have no doubt we’ll see them again.
As we rolled into the State Park, we were warned by many people about the severe weather coming our way tonight. 70 MPH winds, violent thunderstorms, hail, and even a tornado watch. With all the hotels in the area being super expensive, we were okay with taking our chances of flying away in a freak storm. We nabbed the last camping spot and set up camp. So far, there’s only lightning in the distance without any rain at 9pm. Fingers crossed that doesn’t change!
Day 51: Gulf Shores, AL to Milton FL (58 miles) May 5, 2021
Well all my finger crossing did nothing. A bad storm rolled in around midnight, followed by an even worse storm at 3am, followed by the grand finale at 5am. We were hit hard with a dazzling display of lighting and a giant orchestra of thunder. Rain battered against the tents, but the wind stayed at bay as did the threat of tornadoes. Having been caught in plenty lightning storms in the mountains I have heard booming thunder before, but this was different. It reverberated and shook the entire ground and though it was miles away, it sounded like it was right next to us. After talking to a local, I learned that the thunder echos off the water, amplifying it to the ear shattering magnitude we experienced last night. After seeing there was a flood watch and the amount of rain we were being pounded with, I was worried the little creek behind our tents was going to overflow, causing alligators and snakes to body surf right into our tents. I had a plan ready for in case we had to bolt out of those tents to safety and ready to execute it when necessary. But like most worrying, this was wasted energy. We were fine. The only thing we woke up to was soaking wet tents.
We packed up the soggy and sandy tents quickly to avoid another storm coming our way. After eating breakfast in the bathroom (holy heck were those bathrooms clean) and waiting out the worst of a downpour, we headed out in the light drizzle for the day.
Before we knew it, we crossed into Florida!! Last state of this trip!!!! So crazy to think that a few weeks ago this day seemed so far away. Florida was like the Emerald City – a far off land requiring feats of physical and mental strength to get to. And now we’re here!
Lightning skittered across the sky, giving me a mild freight, but the adrenaline rush makes you feel alive, right?! We pedaled to Cafe Beignet and enjoyed some powdered sugar goodness and coffee. It proved to be a good stop because the skies opened and dumped out rain. So we waited it out.
But we did all the waiting we could and we couldn’t put off the inevitable anymore. We suited up and faced our foe. Right as we were about to take off, none other but The Guys passed by! They saw us and waited so we all could ride together. The next 20 or so miles to Pensacola were all a blur, mainly because it was hard to see the road from all the rain. We decided to stop and have lunch at a little diner who didn’t seem too thrilled to have 5 soaking wet cyclists come in, but money is money – even if it is dripping wet.
After lunch we said goodbye to the guys. Although we’re staying in the same town, our paths are diverging after today. But who knows, maybe the universe will smile down upon us and we’ll all finish the same day next week.
The skies cleared and the next 24 miles into Milton were relatively dry with great tailwinds. We got to our warm showers (Dave and Stacey) where they cooked us dinner and took us to Tastee Freeze for ice cream. They treated us like family, joked around, told stories, and fed us way too much food. They even gave us a million snacks and drinks to take on the road with us. Their kindness and generosity is astounding, as is their humor.
Because of the rain, I wasn’t able to take pictures from today’s ride. But it was gorgeous with gulf views. Jim’s phone succumbed to the weather and he had to buy a new one. I’m glad mine didn’t befall the same fate.
We have an easy day tomorrow then a rest day in Panama City Beach with Ryan who had a condo there. After not seeing her for so long, I’m excited to see her again at one of my favorite places!!