Biking Home: Haines City, FL to Largo, FL

Stats: 95.33 miles, 15.7 avg, 6 hours

This was the home stretch.  I had ~100 miles to get home and surprise my mom.

My South African friends, Scott and Ross, wanted to meet me in Plant City to bike with me the rest of the way home.  I started from Haines City where my CouchSurfing host, Bekah, dropped me off.  I hauled ass ~30 miles –  I remember I was really killing it that morning!

It was awesome meeting up with Ross and Scott.  And their dad took my gear in his van so my bike would be a little lighter on the ride.  The pedestrian bridge across the Tampa Bay was closed so we had to take the Gandy.  The speed limit is pretty high, but the shoulder was wide, so it wasn’t a problem.

We made it to Scott’s house without many problems.  I picked up my gear and then the three of us rode down the Pinellas Trail towards my mom’s house.

It was strange biking on those really familiar roads, returning home.  It felt only half-real.  I pulled up into my mom’s driveway, a few minutes before she would probably be home.  I got a key from the neighbor — he was shocked to see me — and opened up the garage.  Just after I took this photo (using a ladder as a tripod), I saw my mom’s car coming around the corner.  I ran inside and tried to hide to surprise her, but she was too quick.  I saw her face as the car pulled in.  She was amazed.  She couldn’t believe I was home.  It was a great moment for both of us.

My mom and I celebrated by going out for a humble pizza party.  It was great to be back, and not have to think about biking any more.

My sister, Eleanor, knew when I was coming home, and she kept the secret from my mom.  But Eleanor wanted to surprise her too.  Eleanor arrived the next day.  I picked her up from the airport and then we drove over to pick up mom from work.  Eleanor hid in the trunk …

SURPRISE!!

Cycling through a Storm: Orlando Airport to Poinciana

It was about 140 miles from Orlando to Tampa.  I was lucky to find a CouchSurfing host that wasn’t too far off my route, about 40 miles from the airport.  I was arriving into Orlando at 2pm, and it took me a couple hours to get all situated and get my bike re-assembled.  I left at 4pm, and I had to bike 40 miles to my host, Bekah.  There was a really dark cloud looming.

Biking on the ramps to exit the airport was bizarre.

My cell phone had been robbed months before in Guatemala, and I never got it replaced because it wasn’t necessary.  But now that I was back in the US, I stopped at the AT&T store to get a new phone, as I was probably eligible for a free one.  But the AT&T rep told me I wasn’t.  She gave me a SIM card though! 🙂

There was a Subway in the same plaza.  Mmmm meatball marinara.  It had been a while.  I took it to eat it at the tables outside.  There were some homeless people hanging out there.  The lady was friendly, and worked up to asking me for a sandwich.  I was feeling great, really pumped by this returning-home adventure, so I handed her my credit card and told her she could get whatever she wanted.  She came out with a sandwich and an extra large drink.  Dumbass buying a huge drink when you can just get refills.  It’s not like she was rushing off anywhere.  I figured that’s why she’s homeless.  Bad decisions like these.

The rain started pouring when I was at Subway.  I figured it would just be about an hour, as Florida storms usually quick. But the rain kept coming.  It was getting close to 7pm, and the light was fading.  I asked the guy at Subway if I could use the phone, and I called Bekah.  I told her that I was waiting for the storm to cool off and she said that she could just come and get me.  I would have felt bad for her to have to drive ~25 miles each way to pick me up, so I refused politely.  Plus it’s an ego thing.

Since it was getting late and the rain wasn’t dying down, I figured I had to just do it, and get out there.  I took off my shirt, said goodbye to my homeless friends, and plunged into the abyss.  Do or Die Baby!!

Right away it was bad.  So much water on the road.  Passing cars were chucking it up at me.  And I was wearing my glasses!  I could barely see through all the water beads on the lenses and in the fading light.  I was a little jittery too, especially when semi-trucks passed spraying mist at me.  I imagined myself slipping on my bike, getting crushed and killed under a truck, and my mom finding out that I was only a couple hour’s drive away.  “Just don’t fall.  Don’t fall.”

It got worse as I turned off from a lighted strip of road with plazas onto a country road in pitch black.  The only light was from the headlights of passing cars.

I was looking for my turnoff.  There weren’t many cross-streets, but when I checked my cyclo-computer again, I figured that I had gone ~3 miles past the turn, but maybe not.  I wasn’t sure.  I wanted to ask someone.  But there was nothing on that road.  I stopped at a gated community that was under development.  There was no one around; no one was living in the houses yet.  I think I yelled at that point.  Then I stood by the road and tried to wave down a car to ask directions.  No one stopped.  Remember though, I was a shirtless cyclist out in the middle of nowhere in the dark.

So I decided to backtrack.  A couple of miles back, I saw a residential area, so I turned in there.  I pulled up to a house that had a light on, put on my shirt, and knocked on the door.  I tried to come across as harmless as possible because I knew this was weird.  A middle-aged guy answered the door, and I told him the situation and asked directions.  He invited me inside to use his phone so I could call my host.  This guy was really trusting.  Once I got the directions down, I headed out.

I think I arrived at my host’s house at around 10pm.  Bekah was outside waiting for me and said she was worried I wouldn’t show up — that I got killed on the way.  Bekah and I had a pasta dinner, talked for a while, and then went to bed.  Pretty standard, but really perfect; I was exhausted.

Return to the USA: Bogota to Orlando

As my time with Jessica was finishing up, I started thinking of what I’d do next.  The plan was to continue South to Ecuador, maybe even Peru.  But that was a lot of mountain, and I wasn’t really pumped about it.  After 6 months of cycling, it was all becoming the same.  A new place wasn’t all that exciting anymore.

I looked at return flights to the US from Bogota and compared it against leaving from other major cities that I might be passing through, like Quito and Lima.  One-way flights from other South American cities were ~$500.  But I found flights from Bogota to Orlando on Jetblue for $80!!  And this was a flight that was only a week away.  That’s the bargain basement price of Destiny.

It was a relief to know my trip was over.  I’d had enough.

Getting a cardboard bike box in Bogota was harder than I thought.  I went to the Bicycle Shop part of town (that’s how Bogota was set up — all the shops of a certain type were in one part of town), and asked for a box at every store, but nobody had one, or they were too stingy with their boxes.  In the US, bike shops want to give them away.  One store had a box that was fit for a smaller bike and they wanted to charge me for it.  An option of one choice.  Then I had to walk it back a couple miles to the hostel.

Jetblue charged me for bringing the boxed bike.  I think it was $50.

On September 1, 2009, I flew into Orlando, back to  the US.  My mom lives in Tampa and my plan was to surprise her, so I didn’t tell her I was coming back.  So, my ride out of the airport was my bike.  I had to put it back together.

I got a pretty good amount of attention for re-assembling my bike by baggage claim, but not many people asked what I was doing; mostly just stares.  One couple, who were in town to visit Disney World, asked where I had biked to.  I told them Colombia.  “Columbia, South Carolina!”