Day One

Savannah, GA to Tybee Island, GA to Pooler, GA

In Savannah, I was reunited with my bicycle. It was fine, even though it had been flipped upside down. After putting the handlebars and pedals back on, I took a couple of pictures outside. My cross-country cycling adventure began at 6:55 AM, sunrise in Savannah. It was a chilly morning--37 degrees Fahrenheit. I apologized to the fine people of Savannah for bringing my cold weather along from Chicago. They were expecting a record overnight low of 23 degrees.

I took a different route through Savannah than I had planned, but I got to see more of the city that way. Approaching a stop sign, I steered into the middle of the lane in a line of cars. " Taking the lane" increases rider visibility, and it's the best way to prevent someone from making a right turn into a cyclist. A rider  can easily keep up with stop-and-go traffic and it's perfectly legal. Immediately, an ignorant woman whipped around me and cut me off. The message was clear--drivers in this area weren't going to cut me any slack, regardless of the law or my rights. Maybe it was just as well that my idyllic dreams of being respected on the road were shattered early. I don't know why I thought being on a tour would be different from my previous experiences (although in Chicago, motorists usually are better-behaved in regard to cyclists taking the lane--not so in the suburbs). Eventually, I made my way to US 80 east toward Tybee Island. This road was a mixed bag. One excellent, newer bridge had a wide shoulder and a bike lane. However, a couple of other bridges, one long and one tall, had a tiny shoulder and fairly low guardrails. When the crosswinds hit, I got a little nervous. " Nowhere to go but drown," I quipped. My worries were unfounded, though--my bike handled fine in spite of its pannier-sails.

I rode out to Tybee Island way too fast. The combination of two days cooped up on the train and first-day anxiety/energy made me feel like Superman. However, I was a little underfed, had no water (although I was well-hydrated--unfortunately I saw a lot of the bathroom on the Silver Star), and I'd had little sleep the past two nights. This was a recipe for exhaustion, and by the time I hit the wide US 80 drag on Tybee Island, I was feeling a little weak. I scanned the street for restaurants and decided to go to the Breakfast Club. But first, I had to take care of some business: the Atlantic Ocean ceremonial wheel dipping.

I rode to the southern tip of the island, beyond the end of US 80, to the beach. I walked my bike through the deep sand, the weight of the panniers on the bike pushing it in deeper. The wind was really strong, probably 30 mph. The sand was blowing close to the ground it looked like slithering snakes. I managed to wheel the bike to the water's edge, where I shot photos  of my rear wheel in shallow water. Then I pulled it out before it sank. Ideally, I would have posed for a self-portrait, but with the wind I feared that my camera might blow over and into the sand. Naturally, the wet tires were even worse in the sand on the way back. When I returned to the road, I had to clean the sand off of everything. My wheels were covered, of course, as were my brake pads. The blowing sand had been high enough to lightly coat my chain. It's hard to imagine anything worse for a bike's drivetrain than sand. At the first mini-mart I saw, near the start of US 80, I asked if they had any rags. They didn't, but I found a package of six durable but thin towels. I used one to wipe off my bike, then I lubricated the chain.

I had a good ham & cheese omelette at the Breakfast Club. I pulled off my jacket to find it soaked. Uh-oh. It would be a long ride back to Savannah against the wind, and wet clothes wouldn't make it any more comfortable. As I finished breakfast at 10:00, I resolved that it would be best to finish the day early. I would ride back to Savannah, get a room, get out of the wind  and get some sleep. The funny thought of just riding to the Amtrak station and going home as if the whole thing was just a daytrip even crossed my mind.

As I expected, the ride back to Savannah was a harrowing experience. The wind stifled me before I even got out of Tybee, forcing me to use my smallest chainring for the first time on the trip. I was somewhat miserable before I even climbed over the first bridge. As it turned out, the headwinds made that bridge much easier to face than the two bridges that followed. There, I fought furious crosswinds that tried to force me into traffic. The latter of the two narrow bridges crossed Bull River. It was by far the most perilous bridge crossing I had ever undertaken on a bicycle (and I hoped it would stay that way!). This newer bridge was very long, probably to minimize its impact on the marshes below. I could see the old US 80 roadbed at ground level on the right as I rode a long, elevated section before actually crossing the river. The crosswinds had nothing to break them since all the vegetation was 15 feet below. As I climbed the final hump over the river, it took all of my energies to keep the bike traveling in a more-or-less straight line.

I followed a recommendation to take the Island Expressway (not a limited-access highway like an Illinois expressway) It was pretty unpleasant. This four-lane road had no shoulder, and few motorists gave me any space. I don't know, maybe I expect too much, but I don't see why a motorist in the right lane on a four-lane highway wouldn't move over to the left a little if there was no one in the left lane. I suppose it was like many people in Chicago--they think they're the only ones who matter and screw everyone else. Not surprisingly, drivers became far more courteous in that respect as I headed west from the Savannah metro area.

Next, I managed to find the worst place to ride a bike in Savannah. There was a street near the river with a bunch of tourist places--restaurants, shops, etc. This street was not just brick, but rough, very uneven brick. It wouldn't have been as bad on a mountain bike, but I sure didn't like it! I even resorted to a taboo cycling tactic--riding on the sidewalk. I hate sidewalk riders--sidewalk riders and wrong-way riders are my two cyclist pet peeves--but the " road" was too rough. Of course, I slowed down to the pace of a brisk walk for the quarter mile or so that I was on the sidewalk. Even worse, once I got on that rough street, I couldn't find a way off of it until I got to the end. Then I got stuck in a one-way parking lot maze. It occurred to me that downtowns are not good places for non-natives to ride. Finally, I escaped and found my way to Louisville Road. The thought of spending the night in Savannah was banished from my mind--I needed to get away from this mess.

Soon I was almost right back where I started, near the Amtrak station, about 45 miles later. There was a guy pulled over in an SUV who called out to me as I passed. I turned around and rode back to him. He introduced himself and asked where I was headed.. Mitch rode across the country in 1993 at age 27, starting at Tybee Island just like I did. Cool! What were the odds of meeting someone like that on the first day of my tour? We talked for a while about our trips. He asked about my wheels and seemed impressed by their sturdiness. His wheels had given him some trouble on his journey. He told me that he was going to Texas soon for a Christian boys' camp (or something like that). Then he said something that surprised me a little--that he hates religions. As I was trying to figure out how he could be a Christian missionary and hate religions, he explained that he feels the way to God is a direct path, not through a religion that  gets in the way of the real message. He said that after being raised Catholic, he tried many churches, but he felt that all of them were just a guy in front of the congregation telling people how to live, not really doing anything to help them get closer to God.

We talked some more, then Mitch asked, " Can I pray for you? In fact, I'd like to pray for you right now if you don't mind."

Well, how could I refuse? What better way to start a great journey? " Sure," I replied. Then he took my hand and spoke a great prayer, as only someone who'd once been in my shoes could. He knew exactly what sort of dangers  and challenges awaited a cross-country cyclist. I thanked him, and we said our goodbyes.

I had been suffering and grumbling a lot since I'd left Tybee Island, but my encounter with Mitch really changed my outlook for the rest of the day, not that there was much of my day left. I only pedaled  another seven miles before I came to the Ramada Express in Pooler. It was right next to a Waffle House, which was perfect. I even managed to get a deal on the room. The clerk quoted me a rate, and I asked if there was anything else. He said he could give me a room with older carpet for $6 less. Heck, I didn't care about the carpet! It was on the second floor, but they had an elevator. When I got to my room, I took a shower and fell asleep.

I woke up predictably hungry and went to the Waffle House for dinner. Waffle House is one of my favorite places to eat, but  there aren't any in the Chicago area. I joked with my family that my goal on this tour was to eat at as many Waffle Houses as possible. For this first Waffle House experience of my trip, I went with my favorites: a waffle with a side order of hash browns " scattered, covered and chunked," which means with cheese and ham. I washed it down with a vanilla Coke (Coke with vanilla syrup, another Waffle House specialty).

Back in my room, I went online for the first time since I left home and downloaded several days' worth of e-mail. I called EarthLink to get my account set up to use their 800 number since I would be in smaller towns without local access numbers for much of my trip. The woman told me I was all set... or so she thought. After my first day hauling a big load, I had no trouble falling asleep regardless of  my earlier nap.

Totals for the day: 55.91 miles in 5:02:56 for an average of 11.1 mph.

Click here to see today's photos.

Copyright 2002-2013 David Johnsen. All rights reserved.