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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Après le deluge, Nous

When I was in Florida helping my mom I returned to a pattern of my youth. We spent a daily hour watching The Price is Right. Bob Barker is of course gone but I remember Bill Cullen who preceded him in black and white. I was a fan.

Today I feel that I won both the initial showcase and the big deal of the day. I'm on my way home from the post storm (Katrina) Gulf Coast, by plane, having shipped ahead my bicycle. Today I will see my beloved.

And then, winning the final showcase, we are going on vacation, for my wife's Spring break, as they say, toooooo Paris France!!! Today I feel like a winner.
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Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I'm not the kind of person who visits jazz clubs. I'm musically under-educated. Encouraged, but not dragged, we went to a small club with terrific music, really terrific. Enjoy.
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I've come to New Orleans for the reform rabbis convention. I attend this annual event regularly once a decade. It's a scary thought to be in the company of so many rabbis. Amazingly the convention this year was directly on my cycling path both in place and time. A good and overdue chance to see friends.

And the food's been amazing. Last night I went to a place owned by the Brennan family, the local food bigwigs, but this particular place a cab ride distant from downtown and the French Quarter. (And btw the French Quarter is seedy and back.)

What food. Sauced, of course. Let's just say that my appetizer was BBQ lamb spare ribs. Did I say amazing?

The same storm hit here as in Gulfport, yet here seems much more back to normal. But perhaps this reflects my becoming a conventioneer instead of a cyclist. There are damaged buildings, but the atmosphere of sadness is not present.

Still when I wandered into the Quarter "cycling style" to find a laundromat, I made the acquaintance of the owner of the "launDRYmat." She did not want her picture taken, but soon she was sharing her life's story and pictures of the storm, including one labeled, a 40 foot wall of water. The food is amazing and the memories are stunning.
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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Fried, Sauced and Ready to Eat

Tonight I heard some of the stories of the storm. The Church groups that came down to help, sometimes with and mostly without agenda, and how the Jewish community grew in understanding. The friends who needed to jump out their second story window and swim to a "salvation tree" where with other creatures they awaited rescue. The friend who after watching his gas stove slide around the kitchen, swam under water to find the gas shut-off like in some James Bond movie. No wonder the storm is still a present tense reality.

We also talked fishing for flounder with a spear and fishing for trout in cold weather with a jig line. And we sat outside on a damp warm March night, on the Bayou Denice, a bayou that flooded during the storm pushing water from the rear like a fifth columnist.

But tonight all was peaceful. And beautiful. And inviting. And the waitress called me hon.
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Cruising in the South

With a good deal of unscheduled time on my hands I was fortunate to be lent a bike while mine was still in its box. A cruiser, single speed, with the seat down low.

I filled up the white wall tires and headed out into a stiff head wind that guaranteed a tail wind on the way home. Cycling is the best way to see so much. I was in the rich part of town, the less than rich and the less than that. Bridges with views and strip malls. And an amazing BBQ place where my helmet initiated conversation among the staff and patrons. A very sweet 15 miles. Oh, and I almost forgot, the lovely azaleas.
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Friday, March 25, 2011

Captain's Log Supplemental

I always wanted to say that Captain Kirk line. And it even sort of fits. This blog would not be complete without a entry on southern gas stations that serve food. Of course, I ate my share of gas station mini doughnuts, but there is more. Like Hunt Brothers pizza, prepared off site, but cooked in mini pizza ovens in gas stations (so far) from Florida to Mississippi. And its not bad when your really hungry and there is cold Diet Coke to buy with it. And more than once I came across gas stations with non-chain resturants inside. Breakfast/lunch places. BBQ places. Crawfish and shrimp places, like the one just down the road from the synagogue where I'm sleeping. Up north I'd never think of mixing fuels. But often the best cooking comes from the plainest of places and nothing is more humble than a filling station.
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Beach Front, Gulfport, MS

Everything here is measured before or after the storm, that being Katrina with a 25 foot storm surge, in 2005, as time is measured in the West. That being five of me stacked up.

Downtown Gulfport and downtown Biloxi are rehabs, new construction, and vacant lots. Though much is rebuilt the emptiness is still profound. From Bay St. Louis to Gulfport to Biloxi houses, essentially all the houses, on the beach front block are simply gone. The next block half and the next block 1/3.

I stopped someone to ask directions to a coffee house. He said that I was looking for a "before the storm" establishment. His house, he told me in our conversation, was on the beach, was being a transitive verb.
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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hard to See, but Worth the Effort

The picture is of the single remaining grave marker in a very old, once abandoned and later refound Jewish cemetery in Biloxi, MS. The inhabitant was born in Paris, France and probably came through New Orleans to Biloxi in order to escape disease, only to die of illness here. The Jewish community inherited and maintains this beit olam, or eternal abode.

Can look closely at the picture? It shows the graphic engraved on the marker. There is a hand holding a water pitcher. The man was a Levite. In the Bible, Levites, among other jobs, washed the hands of the sons of Aaron. In traditional synagogues the custom is maintained today.

Then on the way to lunch we passes President Jefferson Davis's house.
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The International Road to Gulfport

And the Starbucks was just up the "street."
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Urban Primitive

Inside me there is a love of the city at dawn, when the mist rolls in from the heavens and through the scarves wrapped around faces. The city's dawn is when God and humans stake out their positions for the day.

I pulled off the freeway, headed for the airport, but stopping to buy gas. Still dark, I pre-paid for my fuel at the rarest of places, a non-corporate gas station. The man sold the gas while the woman sold Honduran breakfast and lunch items to airport workers of Central American origin, and fellow travelers such as myself. Air travel may not be the luxury of the past, but it is still about "haves" going somewhere with the help of others.

My phone's Google Maps recommended a 3 mile route to the airport by some side streets. 4th street to 34th to fuel blvd. to terminal blvd. with lots of forced turns. At one point a plane flew really overhead. I could smell it. And then up a short and steep ramp and I was there, terminal A on my left. A shortcut of wonder.

Sadly the way of the world is elsewhere. Since I came in so perfectly, I needed to round the entire four terminal complex to get back to the rental car return. Yet the pleasure of returning my land yacht, another glorious human artifact, in the early morning was enough compensation.
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Sale Day in South Florida

So I'm cooling my heels and arches and toes and pedals in south Florida. Yet today I felt the rush of the road as I "sold" my summer teen cycling trip, Tour La'agam, to two young men and their families.  One on the phone who lives in NYC and one in person visiting their grandparents. Not quite cycling, but good to talk about it. (And anyway I'm a bit of a sales person.  Selling is a trip on its own.)
So for the rest of us, Tour La'Agam: A thousand miles in 3 weeks, a traveling community, study, prayer, environmentalism, garage sales, cooking, camping and fun. Oh yeah, smoked fish and ice cream.

Check it out:

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Micro Vacation

I met a friend, Marc, for dinner tonight. He, like me, had come to Florida (from Ann Arbor) to see an ill relative. We shared a bit of respite. We went to a perfect Italian resturant. Not a chain, a McItalian of Adult Casual Dining, nor a tres chic place with tiny portions of too many ingredients. But not a "B" level place either. Rather real people really cooking. I had Osso Buco, braised lamb shanks with risotto, sort of Italian pot roast.  Rich. Perfect.  And a beer, not wine.  Very manly.

We talked about our trips to South Florida, we laughed about life, we shared a this and a that.  Almost three hours passed in a comfortable breeze.  Who says women have a lock on intimate friendships.

"Lots" of Joy

Today I returned to the place of my first service, my mom's retirement community. Last time, in an emotional service, we dedicated a Torah scroll in my dad's memory (see the February 12th posting). Today was the ribald celebration of Purim.

Purim is the costume and noise maker celebration of an averted genocide of all Jews from India to Ethiopia. Foolish partying to celebrate the then reprisal murder of our enemies. Cool.

As strange as a silly party to mark an averted genocide is the larger Biblical story that includes the pimping of a nice Jewish girl by her politically shrewd uncle and the near gang rape of the queen and ends with the hanging of all ten sons of the villain.

On the other hand, 60 or so of us laughed and booed. There is something quite powerful rabbi-ing for folks in their eighties and nineties and one or two past 100. Laughter comes easily and yet they have seen so much. The story contains sex, murder, deception, revenge, power, evil and stupidity. Unlike the kids who are the usual target for the story, these real adults know the darkest period of Jewish history, some up-front and personally. And their enjoyment contained wisdom. A gift for me.

And then as pictured, Ray (and I) ate Hamantashen.
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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Repeated History

Years ago, many years ago, I learned (and probably miss-remember) the story of Pericles convincing the citizens of Athens to abandon the countryside and gather in the defended city during their war with Sparta. Pericles established a new thought, that the community that was Athens was independent of its physical lands.

So this morning at breakfast a new resident was being schooled about the two advantages of living where my mom lives. The security found in both supplied support, like emergency pull cords and the responsibility the residents carry for each other. Most of the residents, including the newbie had moved out of private real estate to enter this community. Then I remembered the "cruise ship (noro)virus" that sweep through the facility last year landing both my parents in the hospital.

An interesting problem. The fullest expression of our humanity is released when we gather together. That, in turn, stresses the bodies we inhabit. And despite our increased level of control over our physical environment, the plague of Athens keeps returning.
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Friday, March 18, 2011

B'shart "the meant to be"

B'shart is Jewish for what is ordained. As a card carrying member of the free will society and an advocate of everyone else's personal responsibility, I usually privately shudder when told something is b'shart, driven by controlling forces beyond human understanding.

This trip could make me a believer. The last few days may make me an advocate. When I needed friend to put me up for the night, the Cantor in Melbourne took me in. I'm allergic to cats. She had five or six. Not once did I sneeze. I needed to race ahead of a serious storm, two days of twenty mph winds at my tail. I had a week with nothing to do. My mom really needed me just that week and I could be there.

And now for the most egotistical of all, this week, this time with my mom, this time with no need to cycle, and I catch the cold of the season. Ok, I might not of become sick on the road, it might have been a cold I picked up on the plane, but the impact of this cold on the road would have ranged between devastating for the trip to just really, really annoying.

Instead I am in the company of the woman who has nursed me to health numerous times. Now before we get lost in my inconsiderate behavior, I have been taking care of my mom and not the other way around. Still it is comforting to be in her company and know she cares.

And it is balancing to the role reversing care I am giving her.

And it is loving. And I do believe in love.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mom Comes Home

This morning I picked up my mom from the hospital, seemingly, fully recovered. And so we went out for "the breakfast," my favorite meal. Since this is south Florida, land where the South is north, I skipped the grits.

More importantly, this episode of "Hospital World" ended well. My mom is tired but fully recovered. I am glad to have been so available to be with her. Another blessing of this trip.
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Monday, March 14, 2011

Big Calves, Clean Toes

My mom is doing better. I hope to bring her home by week's end.

And as long as I am here in south Florida, well when in Rome, I'm enjoying a pedicure. I can see it may be hard to fill off hours here. I going to need some running gear.
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Sunday, March 13, 2011

Water Plowed up from the Rear of our Powerful Boat

My Friend Amir Says . . .
Three things a person can watch all day:
A burning fire,
Running water,
Another person working.
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Lisa and Steve

I stayed with Lisa and Steve longer than with any other host. Being a private person I had my doubts. But before I even arrived Lisa was in gracious contact. First night tuna steak done rare. Life is good. And so was the coffee. In the photo they are sitting on Nathan's boat (another gracious soul) when we went out for a little fishing just before I left.

And they were also so helpful when my mom was taken to the hospital (my mom will be fine) and I needed to rearrange my plans. Good support and guidance.

Wierdly, I had nothing to do next Shabbat. The Pensacola Jewish community was unresponsive as were the two Christian communities with which I had an "in." I had decided to go home for a week after shipping my bike to the next stop, Gulfport, MS. Instead of going home, I am going back to south Florida (by plane) to be with my mom. I'm not a "God has a plan" sort of person, but if I was, here would be proof. Nothing to do in Pensacola, but plenty in Boca.
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Look Mom No Bicycle

A video of the Gulf.
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Watch my Dot

A day on the Gulf.
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The Other Side

Tonight I enjoyed dinner with a woman who spoke passionately about the ongoing suffering infected on the south in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Years ago I was taught that the secret of the Civil War was that the south with its ongoing political clout and large numbers of military facilities actually won the conflict.

This woman painted a different picture. One item: Her family can not sell land that they have owned for generations due to reconstruction era rules that would essentially still confiscate any proceeds. And it's only been 150 years.
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Host with Squid

Tomorrow with my hosts in Panama City we will be going out into the Gulf of Mexico. We're going fishing. And here is the bait. Can you see the eyes? And the squid ink on Steve's face?
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Friday, March 11, 2011

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Glorious Beach

Taken with wet toes.
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Sorry, the Missing Photo

The photo for the previous post.
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Well, This is the Gulf Coast

After Katrina, one might not see the humor in a building landing upside-down on another. Then again this is Spring Break. I stopped in a McDonald's parking lot to take a phone call and a woman ran out of the place exasperated and yelling, "I can't stand Spring Break!!!!!"

I arrived way early in Panama City (it did rain all night) and headed to the beach just to check it out. Lovely, but what beach isn't? After writing this posting, I will call my hosts to check in, but this morning was a bit of out of my program. The yelling woman had a point. College students by the thousands foraging for food, drink and company. I actually overheard a conversation about being a "wing man." I never did the break thing myself and am both wierded out and completely jealous.

And the beach was really nice.

P.S. I left where I was sitting when I realized I was in the way of feeding Breakers. I was the only person present over thirty. The person taking my seat asked me with grace how I was feeling. Was old an acceptable answer?

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not So Calm

I took this photo just before, just 30 seconds before, the skies opened up. The line between the clouds was "horizontal" instead of "vertical."

The great tail winds I enjoyed were pushing against the storm line. So now swirling winds, rain and talk of tornadoes. Glad to be safe (and dry).
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The End of the Ocean

This picture comes from the top of a medium sized causeway looking north. The picture looking the other way would have been just ocean, the Gulf of Mexico. Those, I believe, are shrimp boats and a processing plant. Shrimp is the cash crop here and along much of the Gulf Coast.

Later in the morning I crossed a much longer and higher causeway with a fierce cross wind. Today and yesterday were a determined and successful effort to avoid the serious rain and storms that will arrive in Panama City, my destination. Lots of biking but with a thrill. Yesterday I rode, late in the day, better than 17.5 mph for a bit more than an hour and felt great. What a wind. This morning an even stronger wind pushed me even faster past 18 mph for nearly two hours. I was racing the storms and flying like the wind.
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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just a Second Pretty Picture from the State Park.

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A Day Well Spent

Last night after dinner and anti-vermin clean-up, another cyclist rode into my campsite.  German, a engineering student, with a cool bike and way over-loaded.  His saddle-bags, the same as mine but a day glow orange he got at a bargain price, loaded to the point of not closing and then piled high with sleeping goods and a handle bar bag (also orange).  Of course, being 20 something, he could handle it. Jonas ask how to pay, it being past closing, and I invited him just to join me.  Needless to say his tent was triple sized compared to mine.  But I was really sorry that he could not share in the feast.

Many good vibes today, including great Gulf vistas and the cool town of Apalachicola, but the highlight was the decision to pass up my camping reservation and push on another 20 miles to Port St. Joe, FL. With the wind it took just over an hour.  I'm glad I shrunk my load.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

After Dinner I Built a Fire. So Human.

btw, dinner was spectacular.
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Still Life with Grouper

The State Park is a paradise. k. d. lang is channeling Palsy Klein. RV's of various sizes arrive. Dinner prep begins. My neighbors are friendly. Life again is . . .

But I'm cold. The tradeoff for the north winds that drove me south is the cold air. Earlier today I accepted the tradeoff. I was biking, creating heat. Now I want it both ways. Good wind early in the day, warmth later.

Being selfish is the right of all that lives. Verbalizing it is human. Wishing for better is what we do. But accepting the truth of the universe is our fate.
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The Restaurants are Closed

With the wind at my back the miles flew by. I arrived in Sopchoppy (ah to have cycle to Panacea) with thoughts of finding a restaurant close by my campsite at Ochlockonee River State Park. I found the Backwoods Bistro a place with a great menu. Life looked promising.

Standing out front I heard noise within but all "looked" quiet. I called on the phone. A man, the chef, answered and when he saw me, he opened the door. Closed on Mondays. I requested aide in finding another establishment. We looked at maps, made calls, discussed possibilities and almost gave up. Then he said, "Look, I'll give you a grouiper fillet", to which he added blackening spice and a lemon. This is the kindness that accompanies cycling.

I added a small bag of briquets, beer, potatoes, salad (and yes said the glutton) a small steak and ten pounds of ice. A much heavier bike but a feast requires commitment.
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Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Different Experience

Last night I attended Conservative services in Tallahassee and gave the talk.

Working with this week's Torah reading of Pekudei (Exodus 38:21-40:38), I spoke about how the mishkan, or desert "Temple," was needed to store the holy items made for God's service. This comes from a midrash, or understanding, that the commentator Rashi brings to the Torah. When Betzalel the builder was told to get to work on the holy objects he points out to Moses that he first needs the mishkan, the desert "Temple," for their storage. First build the container, then the objects to be stored inside. I added that synagogues, schools and cemeteries are the "houses" we use today to store what is most precious. (In Hebrew all three are called "houses of ...").

I was a bit nervous. These were new folks, "Conservative Jews." I did not know how they might respond to a Reform Rabbi. Not an issue. Good, kind and thoughtful Jew with strong Jewish identities and skills, just like everywhere I've been. I gave the sermon/drash, they led the service with skill and quality intention.

However, the Mourner's Kaddish, the memorial prayer, exposed me to something unexpected. My dad died the end of August. I have been saying kaddish since. In Reform synagogues everyone stands in solidarity with the mourner. In Conservative, only the mourners rise in the embrace of the supportive community. I felt different and acknowledged.

Which is better? Both are better and better yet the opportunity for both.
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Friday, March 4, 2011

Goodness Again

When I pulled into Tallahassee early in the day I decided that it was a good time to do some basic maintenance on my drive train. I Google Mapped bicycle shops close-by my hotel. One, Higher Ground, was mere blocks away.

Nice people, nice work and no charge. That's Roger on the right. I'm sorry I don't know the other two by name, but I do know their genuine kindness. Roger said I should consider it part of my effort and I do.

There is a certain grace to the kindness of strangers.
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America, the Beautiful

I only had a short distance to go today, and while the hills rolled they seemed more down than up. And a tail wind. After an hour and twenty minutes I took a break for second breakfast at the first urbanized area south of Thomasville.

I asked a man and woman if they could recommend a "place for breakfast." I was directed down the road a piece to a Chick-a-fil. "Well," I said, "how about a place that cooks what they serve." OK, I'm a snob (who loves an egg mcmuffin on occasion). The man began to wax on the virtues of Chick-a-fil but the woman directed me to a place not fifty yards away, just down the hill. Great view, but as pretentious as a place can be. Lots of items with Hollandaise sauce. I guess I got what I deserved.
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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where Am I?

Day before yesterday at breakfast the waitress made me a fresh pot of coffee because at 9:30 I was the first person that day who wanted coffee. Today I'm sitting in a coffee house drinking Ethiopian and munching on real New York Crumb Cake, an old favorite.

Am I home? Or just in Thomasville, Georgia. Where I'm sleeping looks like America: fast food and drug stores. Where I'm sitting looks like America's past meets self indulgence: bookstores, boutiques and baked goods, with wine and coffee as chasers. I had lunch at Seminol Winds, a Christian infused cafeteria of down home cooking. I ate, or stuffed myself, in the company of some club of seniors wearing badges and vests.

I stopped a young man in the coffee shop, with whom I talked for fifteen minutes or so, because he was wearing the shirt of a restaurant I wanted to try, called Fish and Grits. He turned out to be the owner of this upscale place and filled me in on the history of Thomasville. It was the most southern place in Georgia before Florida was developed. Big plantations with lots of money. Hence the beginnings of the cool town center. I was upfront explaining who I was and what I was doing. Caleb wanted to know if the ancient Hebrews were black and if the sons of Noah defined the three human racial divisions. (btw Caleb is white) I shared that modern racial issues and weirdness are modern, not Biblical nor Rabbinic. Surely, I was in Georgia.
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A Brief Encounter

I stopped to take a picture of the cultivated "field" of magnolia trees in the distance. The young man in the foreground approached me or do I thought. Actually he was just passing through to the other side of the road where the woods served as restroom. He did generously stop to give my photo some scale. "Gracias," I said, as I rode off. From the woods came the reply, "de nada."
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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Notice the Pillow (and the red cheeks)

I was gifted (by Chris, whom you will meet soon) and am way beyond grateful for my Hampton Inn room for tonight. Less far to travel and less cold to wake up to.

As I said earlier, I got up and went this morning. A long ride that I wanted to take easily. But I had a tail wind much of the way and made good time.

I arrived in Adel (the middle part of PhilADELphia) around 1:00 pm feeling finished. A man in a van called out to me and asked to talk. As he pulled over I noticed that the van belonged to a church. Chris got out and said, "I'm the pedaling pastor." "Well," I replied, "I'm the pedaling rabbi." So began a new friendship. Tomorrow we may ride together to Thomasville.

Check out his blog at
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What the Eyes See May Deceive

Yesterday Spring arrived. Redbud lightly coating branches, willows showing leaves, the pear trees in the picture, even a magnolia.

Last night we dropped to a couple degrees above freezing.

Waking early, painful since my sleeping bag is delightfully warm, I headed up the hill to the main road by 7:00. Had to hurry as cheesy grits awaited in Willacoochee. Full breakfast: $3.50 including coffee. Nashville by 11:15 and a slow ride to Adel, a town I consistently pronounce differently each time I speak.
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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A Full Day Half Over

Last night it stormed, but the nearest lightning was three miles away. And I was dry in my tent.

This morning I road ten miles to breakfast which seemed ordinary till the waitress returned with the South Georgia version of the Jacksonville paper ( with my picture on the cover. Celebrity before the grits arrived.

Later in the day I took a paved but back roads shortcut of fifteen miles. I saw eleven cars and four dogs, in two groups of two. Chasing me. Now, I've been told that a bike can out run a dog and, more importantly, out stamina a dog. And I did. Twice. But it was close, especially the second time. A third time, thank God I avoided the test. All in favor of more traveled roads, raise your leg.

The end of the short cut was the town of Nichols, GA. This was my first experience of obvious systemic poverty. Lunch, a grilled cheese with fries and a tea was under five dollars. The grocery store where I went looking for, but not finding a banana, had fruit that would not be sold from an Ann Arbor discount bin. And the whole place just looked sad.
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