Part 22 of the Cycle-Across-America series relayed day by day, exactly ten years after it happened. (Read from the start in Boston)
Ten years ago today I was taping myself while sheltering in a thunderstorm in Georgia:
[Thunder and very heavy rain]
Okay, it’s Friday and I’m in Georgia. It’s a quarter to seven in the evening. I’ve been sheltering for the last half-hour from a thunderstorm. Under some bushes at first, which wasn’t very effective. [Thunder] Then travelled the couple of hundred metres, found this Baptist church, and I’m in the porch of it [thunder] so it’s certainly dry. And I’ve got a view of all [thunder] the lightning and all the trees [thunder]. And there’s thunder all around as the song says.
[Thunder] I reckon I’m only a couple of miles from Centerville, today’s original destination, [thunder] but I’m not going out in that.
The rain’s quite heavy, and I’m soaked through to the skin anyway. A while back, about fifteen minutes ago, it eased off and the rain was quite tolerable –Ouch! I just got bitten on the arm again. There’s things everywhere –but the lightning was still going on [thunder] and the thunder got pretty aggressive. Perhaps this is stupid. Perhaps this is no problem at all.
Now, looking at the car park here I can see the rain drying off although it’s landing. I can see it going up as well, evaporating. And I can also see lightning, which means there’s going to be thunder. My Atlanta host will probably be worried because I told him [thunder] I’d get in about six o’clock. And I would’ve done but I had to take some back roads in the last fifteen miles to avoid rush [thunder] hour traffic on the big highways. Relatively big highways, busy ones that is.
But apart from this storm, this has been a fabulous day. I’ve just passed the one hundred-mile mark. I left at half seven –a lot of lightning there –I left at half seven [thunder] –ooh hooh [thunder] it was a [thunder] very, very, tough, tough day [thunder] Just hills. Georgia’s just one big roller coaster [thunder] but I didn’t get dispirited. I went up them at a steady pace, and I rested going down them, by and large. And whenever it levelled off I tried to get some kind of rhythm going.
I had breakfast in Crawfordville as intended [thunder]. This nice woman cooked me scrambled eggs and what they call Bacon, which is the crispiest Bacon in the world. Four [thunder] rock hard rashers curled up with a few biscuits [thunder]. If you walk past this bacon it breaks.
There wasn’t a lot to the day really. Basically most of it was just trees, wild stuff. Which at first can kind of bore you, but eventually can lull you, you love it. You see so few crops. None at all to speak of. The odd field at the end here [thunder] as I got near Atlanta, with some cows on it and people who have [thunder] ponies and horses, and goats. But most of the day has just been wild growth.
I went through the Oconee State Forest Park, National Forest in fact, where you cross Lake Oconee. And that was quite good. And somewhere around there as well is where I came across this creeper, which is still in existence here as I look around. This creeper grows on everything. It grows on the grass, it grows up trees, up telephone poles, up telephone wires, across branches, down branches, it joins trees and bushes together. Basically it just drapes everything so you’ve got this fantastic [thunder] I don’t know what you’d call it –sculptural structure like as if someone just draped the bushes and trees in long curtains –leafy ones obviously. But they’re great to look at.
There’s a lot of evaporation now. Maybe it’s easing off. The sky is as grey as ever –and there’s some more lightning, damn –the rain is quite tolerable. I could go out in that. But I don’t like that lightning. I need to go to the jax badly. And a Baptist church is not the place to do it [thunder]. Nothing else around, just trees. These are little back lanes, which just go up and down and around [thunder].
What towns there were, were very nice. A couple of small ones, Union Point and Greensboro. And I had what I would call dinner, the second food stop, the main one, at Madison. Beautiful historic town. In this great café that closed at two so I just made it. However much I scrubbed them, my hands were still too filthy for picking up the burger .
-I ain’t ever seen no one eat a burger with a knife and fork
I’m thinking of heading in a few minutes because –the lightning’s still going on, that’s the problem [thunder]. Should I worry? [Thunder] This is as light as the rain has been [thunder]. Oh, oh, a big double lightning there [thunder].
If I knew how far Centerville was I could go for it. Visibility’s a problem as well because with the rain coming down and the evaporation and the splashes, plus it’s getting dusk-ish, and the grey skies, this is not good. It’s about –oh what time is it now? –Yeah ten to seven. So I’m going to have to go anyway or I’ll end up walking now –there’s some more lightning. Right I’ll give it a go. I’ll see what happens.
I got fifty to one hundred metres and the rain just dropped again. I kept having to pull into some trees. It was quite ridiculous. The lightning and thunder was a bit crazy. Got around the corner only, no more than five hundred metres, and pulled under a few trees. A big white van pulled into the first house I came to. The man didn’t get out, so after about 15 minutes –getting drenched under the trees, lightning all around – I cycled over to him and asked to use his phone. And he said, ‘certainly’, and sent me over to his garage to shelter. And then he brought out the phone from the house.
Once he heard what what I was doing he offerred to drop me up to Route 78, a place that could be easily located on the map for my Atlanta host to pick me up.
And momentarily I actually paused. I was thinking,
–No, no, you can’t drop me, that will ruin the trip, because I have to cycle and if you drop me I’ll only have to come back here and I’ll never find it.
It was only momentarily. Basically, it wasn’t the inconvenience of the rain, it was the danger of the rain, the visibility, the fact that I’d be out all night if I said ‘No’ and I couldn’t get in touch with anybody. So I said yes.
While taking me to 78, up in Stone Mountain area, he told me the creeper I liked so much is called kudzu. It was brought in from China to help with the soil erosion of the creeks, to hold things together. It didn’t work. It’s taken over. And everybody hates it. He didn’t like it. Because it takes over everything.
So I waited at a gas station for forty minutes for my host as I watched the storm. Stone Mountain is where the tennis in the Olympics was -a big lump of granite, a solid lump. The fellow who gave me the lift told me that it’s supposed to cover seven states. I presume that’s quite deep because all I’m looking at is red sand, horrible sand that gets in your hair on your arms and your legs, and all over the footpath. And on the road, and you can go skidding on it if you’re not careful. But what we see is just the peak of Stone Mountain anyway, a big lump of granite.
Just before my host got there the lightning hit something and took out the power. So the whole place was in darkness, outside and inside. The storm also slowed down my host.
He had a cooler with a few beers in it for me to drink in the car. That’s very thoughtful of people to do that. I felt a bit funny because the seat belt didn’t work, and in the storm you couldn’t see a whole lot. And once we had to brake on the Freeway because of the car in the next lane just spraying up water, you could see nothing. The car behind had to jam their brakes. I was thinking that would be a stupid way to die, with no seat belt and a beer in my hand, after what I’d been through.
When we got back I was tired. I’d done a very hard hundred miles, a lot of climbing, up and down, and then the soaking at the end kind of messed up my gear because it was so quick. I probably got complacent after so many days in the dry, but it damaged some things, water got in, like my passport. And being so late it seemed silly to go off next morning, so I decided I would stay a day to sort out my stuff and, to be honest, to rest.
After dinner at an Outback - an Australian style chain - I stayed up talking with my host until one. Still on a high after the day’s cycle, I stayed up until three. Despite the weather. I wasn’t down.
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