It was supposed to be my year of adventure, but I was bored already.
People always ask what I do, to which there is no simple answer. Generally, as long as I have access to a phone and email, I can “work” in any location, so my “job” affords me a lot of freedom to travel. (I can’t give you all the game for free, sorry.)
I try to avoid firm time commitments so I’m free to jet off wherever when the mood strikes. (I came across an article in Fast Company a few years back which confirmed my theories on the value of keeping an open schedule.) I’d just finished glancing at my calendar before heading out to meet some friends for dinner in Atlanta — I had two weeks to fill before heading to Jamaica on vacation. The possibilities were endless.
Over dinner, somebody asked if I’d heard about Vega. I knew Vega from
TheSupertrainer workouts at Piedmont Park with the Zone 4 crew.
She’s a recording artist signed to Pitbull’s record label through
producer Polow da Don.
“No,” I said. “Heard what?”
“She’s riding her bike to Miami. She left this morning.”
I keep a pretty lengthy list of potential adventures (always hated the term “bucket list,” but yeah), and running across the United States is on there. I did the math on it once and calculated that it would take at minimum six months. I ran a half-marathon once on Halloween dressed as Forrest Gump, okay? So I was immediately intrigued by the idea of biking from Atlanta to Miami.
In fact, I’d been looking to get into a new sport, because nagging knee pain had been preventing me from clocking my usual 3–4 miles a day on the track. The doctor had advised me that my issues were simply from too much running and I needed to balance out my overused hamstrings by developing my quads.
The story as I understand it went something like this: Vega was planning to hop in her friend Jess’s Jeep for a 10+ hour ride down to her hometown of Miami. Someone overheard this conversation and joked that they’d be safer riding bicycles to Miami — hadn’t they ever heard of the Jeep’s infamous Death Wobble?
Knowing Vega’s producer Polow, I’m certain that at this point he chimed in with a bet to entice her, but no one ever confirmed that part. In any case, Vega and Jess headed to the nearby Dick’s Sporting Goods, where an older gentleman named Hugo happened to be working in the bicycle department. Hugo, who has conquered the French Alps and the Jamaican countryside by bicycle in his lifetime, was (I assume) skeptical enough to quip that if the ladies really bought bicycles and rode to Miami, he’d leave his job and ride with them. So they did, and he did (well, he didn’t quit, just took a leave of absence). Polow’s brother Qua joined up and the Fearsome Four departed Atlanta’s
Piedmont Park on the morning of March 22, 2016.
So, long story short, the following day I rushed around the city gathering everything I thought I might need for a 10-day bike trip. (Having never done anything like this before, I naively Google-Mapsearched the distance to Miami, which read 500 miles — by car. Vega said they were biking 50 miles a day, so 10 days seemed realistic at the time.)
The #1 item needed, of course, was a bicycle. Hugo had arranged for me to get a discount at Dick’s so I picked up the only road bike they had left in my size — a Nishiki Maricopa. (Especially considering the lack of research that went into this purchase, the Nishiki has held up quite well and I’m pleased with it. I now consider it a dear friend, although I neglected to ever give it a name.) A lowmaintenance hairdo seemed like a good idea for a trip like this, so
Taylor came through to braid my hair.
Early the next morning King dropped me and my bike off in Macon,
although she could not be persuaded to join us. There was then a discussion
about what the group’s new name should be, since they could no longer
be the Fearsome Four. Seemed pretty simple to me — uh, the Fearsome Five?
— but I guess they wanted something different for the new crew. So we
became the Fantastic Five.
First stop for the Fantastic Five was Subway. [Sidenote: I refuse to eat
Subway; I walked next door to get a Publix sub.] It was here, when Vega
laid out a map — like, an actual, physical, printed map, the ones from ancient times before GPS — that I realized there was no route or itinerary for this journey.
Before we set out in Macon
But, being a last-minute tagalong, I decided to just go with the flow.
Besides, I was relieved to know that at least one of us (Hugo) was an
experienced cyclist, so we weren’t all complete novices.
Vega & Jess looking at the map
So we all followed Hugo out of the parking lot and we were off. [Since
the group had already traveled 2 days and 105 miles, I decided to start
my count at Day 3, Mile 106 for the sake of simplicity.]
The Fantastic Five setting out on Day 3: (L-R) Jess, Vega, me, Qua, & Hugo
Now, don’t get me wrong — Hugo is a bicycle expert, a great guy, and
was a great asset on this trip. But a navigator he is not. We followed
when he turned right on Forsyth Rd (US-41). Four miles in, he stopped
abruptly at a sign for US-41 North and announced that we were going
the wrong direction. (Bear in mind, we’re going to Miami. So we’re
never going to go North for anything.)
Departing from the Publix shopping plaza in Macon, GA
Wrong way! Turning around…
So, I appointed myself Navigator. Google Maps offers a “Bicycle”
option, which is still in Beta, so it’s not flawless, but it helps — in
theory, at least, it guides you to roads which are the most bike-friendly.
(I didn’t know it at the time, but the Adventure Cycling Associaton has
a pretty extensive network of bike routes through the U.S. which are a
combination of bike paths and quiet, scenic backroads.) So I started
trying to look up directions on the fly. But even a quick Google search
of “cycling Atlanta to Miami” turned up nothing — it didn’t seem to be a
common cycling route, and there are probably good reasons for that.
Around Mile 14, we stopped at a gas station, which may have prevented
us from being a part of a bizarre incident. While we were inside, a
drunk driver plowed off the road and across the sidewalk into the
parking lot of a Jiffy Lube about three buildings down. We learned all
this from a hysterical woman in front of the gas station who had
apparently been a passenger in the car and fled before police arrived.
The police and firemen were there in full swing by the time we passed
by. I didn’t venture over to get a closer look at the car, but seeing the
debris in the path he left behind —which could’ve easily crossed our
path — was a little disconcerting.
In the haste of packing for the trip, it hadn’t really occurred to me that
we’d be riding bicycles, on roads, like, alongside traffic. It’s a little
jarring. This was not a good road for cyclists. Between the tiny
shoulder, semi-trucks whizzing past us, the near-close call with the
drunk driver, and smelly roadkill (which, I have since learned, is a
common sight while cycling), I was ready to get off that road.
Fortunately, it was a short stretch, and by Mile 18 we branched off onto
a quieter road. At Mile 22, Vega got a flat tire, so we all took a break
lounging in some hayfields while Hugo repaired it. I’ve never seen
anyone love changing flat tires as much as Hugo does.
Not a great place to be cycling
Flat tire break: Qua, Hugo, Jess & Vega
By late afternoon it was overcast and the skies were looking like they
might burst open at any moment. We decided to call it a night around
Mile 30, which was fine for me — 30 miles was a good warmup for my
first day. We were being loud and giggly upon check-in at the hotel and
the grumpy man behind the counter was not amused. I guess I’d be
pissy too if I had to work the graveyard shift at Econo Lodge and
couldn’t ride my bike all day.
. . .
Macon GA to Byron GA