I get lost when roads weaving through beanfields, cotton fields, ponds, and pastures don’t seem to correspond to my map. But I find a way to 292, then to Collins. From there I take the direct route to Reidsville, driven by hunger. The only breakfast place is a little fast food joint, but they’re nice and fix me up with eggs, grits, toast, and pancakes. When I leave one of the ladies runs out after me with two snickers bars “for the road.”
A man stops and talks about the failure of the rails-to-trails project in Georgia. He tries to convince me to go to the coast, describing my planned route as empty and dangerous. Empty doesn’t actually sound too bad to me. That’s what I get. The next 30 miles are hot, bright, and quiet. Not much around but vast tree farms.
In Jesup there’s a small gas station where a pretty woman with long red hair talks with me for a while. Her husband died earlier in the month and she faces brining their son up alone on this job. I admire her genuine cheerfulness in such a situation. Her smiles are real, they don’t try to cover up that shade of sadness, the cheerfulness just wins out.
More hot miles, more tree farms. It reminds me of how I’d imagine the Australian outback – red dirt, spiky palmetto, white sand, with more dirt and sand roads than paved ones. A man with a cleft palate catches me and asks about the bike. He speaks quite clearly for having no roof in his mouth. He’s been looking at Bike E recumbents, but likes the looks of mine better. He’s 62. We’re right outside “Happy Acres” campground, but I say I wasn’t planning to stay there. I don’t like the looks of it. “You’ll find a place to spend the night in Patterson,” he says as he rides off. Later, as I approach Patterson, I do indeed find the perfect spot on an old road in a tree farm, long unused. It hides decrepit furniture, appliances, and the bleached skeleton of an unfortunate cow. It’s overgrown, but was cleared recently enough to provide a spot free of the spiky palmetto and undergrowth that otherwise surrounds and conceals me.
In an impulsive action, I commit the sin of littering. I’m firing up the stove to cook noodles when I notice my food bag is redolent with the stench of something in the advanced stages of decay. I discover a bag containing a box of rice that was long ago soaked with rain. Almost involuntarily I launch it into the brush. I then feel sorry, but not enough to go through the pains of retrieving it.