Day Ten

Prattville, AL to Selma, AL

New feature: sunburned body part of the day. Whenever the sun is shining, there's always someplace where I forget to put sunscreen. In Savannah, the cold, windy day made me forget how sunny it was. Consequently, I have looked like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for my entire trip. I also got that awful, dorky cyclist's face, where the skin burns red except underneath the helmet straps. A few days later, I noticed the traditional cyclist's hand burns, little circles at the base of thumb and forefinger where the gloves don't quite cover. I've been " outed" as a cyclist on the El by this trait in the past. Yesterday, I put sunscreen on, but I somehow missed my left arm by the elbow. I had a bad feeling about the sun today because I left my motel room in a hurry and applied the sunscreen on the road. I knew I would forget to cover something. Sure enough, today's burned parts were my right arm and my left knee.

This was another easy day, about 40 miles to Selma. I wore my USA map jersey, figuring that if nothing else, Joe at the bike shop might like it. This was the first time I wore the jersey without a jacket, and I was overwhelmed by the comments from people just at the first gas station where I stopped for drinks. I had reached the point where I had made enough progress to feel like I was really on my way.

Back on the road, I was starting to think that the motel clerk was right. Lots of semis were passing me, and there wasn't much spare pavement to work with. However, I knew that I was on SR 14 and US 82 at the time. I figured that the US 82 traffic toward Tuscaloosa accounted for the bulk of the traffic. Soon, the routes split and my suspicions were confirmed. SR 14 had much less traffic, and it turned out to be a pretty good route for the day. There were some tough hills, but overall it was less hilly than Georgia. Plus, some of the grades weren't as steep, so I could cruise up them at a good pace. Just outside Prattville, I saw a sign: " For Sale 55 gal. steel drums $10." I laughed because I couldn't imagine carrying anything more ridiculous on my bike than a 55 gallon steel drum!

The beautiful weather encouraged me, too, and by the time I got to Selma, my average speed was 14 mph despite a slight headwind. I pulled up to Joe's Auto & Bike Shop at the corner of Lapsley Street and Jeff Davis Avenue. " Hey, Chicago!" Joe called out in recognition. I was a little nervous at first--I had heard horror stories about heavy-handed mechanics at these little small-town auto/bike shops not knowing what they're doing and wrecking a good bike. I needn't have been concerned. Joe was a good guy with plenty of experience. We talked for a long time. Joe couldn't find a rear tire for me, but I suspected as much since it was more of a repair shop rather than a store. Besides, even in Chicago it can be hard to find good touring tires off the shelf, although the rise of the commuter/hybrid/comfort market has helped. He could have ordered a tire, but I didn't have time to wait around. He did have some brake pads that I could use in an emergency, though (something I had intended to buy before my trip but didn't). Joe talked about his experiences as a mechanic in Selma, Montgomery and New York City and explained the differences between the markets. In Selma, most people just want to get by, so they buy cheap bikes at Wal-Mart. Then when something breaks, they bring it to Joe. Inevitably, the part is more expensive than what they want to pay.  I said that it has always amazed me that people complain about paying $20 for someone to spend an hour or two working on a bike, but they pay $60 an hour or more to a dealer to work on a car.  When he worked in the cities, Joe dealt with more enthusiasts riding good bikes who didn't mind paying for parts or repairs. Regardless, Joe said bikes were a great business to be in. He genuinely loves what he does.

One of Joe's customers came in to get a 16" wheel for his kid's bike pumped up. He looked and sounded like actor John Goodman. Joe told him about my trip, and he looked at my bike. " Them pedals are kinda small, ain't they?" he asked. I lifted my foot to show him the cleat in my shoe that attaches to the pedal. " Can you get loose in an accident?" I replied that I thought so, but I hadn't had a chance to try that yet.

I removed my panniers and Joe put my bike on his Park stand on the sidewalk. When the weather is nice, he does the bike repairs in front of his shop. This works out well because he can say hello to the people who drive by. Everybody in Selma knows Joe. At least every few minutes, somebody would honk or wave and he'd wave back. It was clear that this was a big reason why he came back from New York City--for the hometown atmosphere.  He gave my bike a once-over, adjusted my derailleurs and tightened everything. Then he asked if I wanted to take it for a spin unloaded. I rode around the block, and it was the strangest experience. It was the first time in several hundred miles that I had ridden without a load. The bike felt so different. My steering was wobbly without the front panniers--I never realized how much correcting my arms do in a day. The bike felt so much faster and more responsive. I looked forward to how easy it was going to be to ride centuries this summer after hauling panniers all spring.

Joe only charged me $10 for the brake pads and the adjustments, which made me feel a little guilty after hearing him talk about how cheap people were in Selma. I even asked if he was sure that was enough. I had taken more than an hour of his time, although he seemed to enjoy reminiscing. Sometimes it's just nice to have someone with similar interests who will listen, I guess.

After checking in to my motel, I went to Winn-Dixie (a grocery store) for dinner. My mom always says that if she lived alone, her freezer would be full of red Stouffer's boxes. Taking advantage of my motel room's microwave, I had Stouffer's cheese lasagna and escalloped apples, plus Uncle Ben's mac & cheese for dinner.

Totals for the day: 43.75 miles in 3:10:36 for an average of 13.7 mph.

Click here to see today's photos.

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