I slept nearly all day but did wake up when I rolled over and brought the bike down on top of me. Talk about heart attack city!! I got up and took care of my personal needs, noticing that there were tender spots from the skinny bike seat, and then checked to see if there were any people around.
I didn’t see any but I decided not to risk starting up the camping stove, especially since I hadn’t had the time to learn to use it yet. Besides Beanie Weenies aren’t bad cold. I decided to take a couple of the water bottles and turn them into Gatorade for the road ahead. I cleaned my spork, put it away, and then stepped on the can to make it as small as possible. We weren’t exactly in the pristine wilderness but I hated to leave any bigger of a mess than I needed to. Mom always made a big deal of that when she was my Girl Scout leader. Besides, what if someone was following me?
There was some WD40 and graphite in the shed that I used to take care of the bike. Before the sun went down I sat and looked at the map again to make sure I was still headed in the right direction. I was pretty sure I could go twice as fast with the bike as I could on foot. No more than that though or I could run into problems. Even being careful it’s been a near miss a couple of times, especially if I went around a corner too fast.
Best walking distance I made was fifteen miles in one night. I was pretty sure I could do roughly five miles an hour on the bike, depending on how long I could ride. That meant I could probably get between 30 and 40 miles per night. I thought at the time that could cut a lot of days off my travel time. It did up until I ran into trouble but I’m not to that part of the story yet.
I followed US41 from Arlington, through Hernando, and then to Holder and that was eight miles. From Holder to Dunnellon was another seven miles for a total of fifteen. That is how far I would have hoped to have gotten if I was walking. Getting to Williston would have been too much to hope for so I settled on trying to get to this place called Romeo which was twelve miles past Dunnellon. If it was too early to stop when I got to Romeo then I could decide to keep going or not.
I put a couple of those trail mix granola bars in the bag with the water bottles so I could have a snack if I wanted one and set off as soon as it was full dark. That was easier said than done because my fanny was some kind of sore. It was an hour before it got so numb I didn’t notice it anymore.
I made it to Romeo with no problems, stopped for the night, and followed my routine of finding a convenient hiding place to wait out the day by sleeping. I should have known things were starting to go too good. I set out again at sundown and was just outside of Williston when I saw some fires in metal barrels that lit up a road block. I pulled off quick into the bushes to try and figure out what to do next.
It wasn’t long before I was glad that I had pulled over and hidden. A car came out of nowhere and stopped not too far from where I was hiding. The car was a Mustang. I knew that because of the chrome horse on the back end where the trunk was. There were two guys in the car and with their windows rolled down I didn’t have any trouble hearing what they were saying.
Boy, were they foul mouthed! They were complaining that the local cops had the road blocked off again and then spent fifteen minutes trying to decide what was the best way to get around so they could go pick up some person with “the stuff.” I may be a kid in some people’s eyes but come on, it was so easy to see these guys were drug mules and probably users too. If these were the kind of people that the cops in Williston were trying to keep out I certainly couldn’t blame them.
The Mustang turned around and left back the way it had come but I still had to figure out what I was going to do. I pulled out the map and the head lamp and stepped further into the bushes and tall grass that was growing all up and down the highway now that the DOT had stopped mowing things. I squatted down and looked at my map.
Big problem, my maps showed the main roads but not the secondary roads. There was no way I was going to give adult authorities a chance to lock me up in a warehouse again so I backtracked a little bit and then turned north on the first secondary street I could which happened to be 7th Street. I figured seven was a lucky number and kept going.
Now the story gets scary for real. I was pedaling as fast as I could but not fast enough. The Mustang guys must have been pulled over and I didn’t see them. But they sure saw me and I must have been like those fake rabbits they used to make Greyhounds run - too irresistible not to chase.
There was no way I was going to beat them on the straight streets so I started riding through yards and cutting through hedges. This must have gone on for almost as hour. Every time I thought I’d lost them they’d pick up my scent again. And I was bad lost by this point and that didn’t help my frame of mind any. I still get the shakes pretty bad thinking about it as you can see from my handwriting.
I finally got lucky, or an angel gave me a hand, when I biked into this place where a bunch of semis were parked. There was enough room between the trucks for me and my bike but not enough room for the Mustang. I zigzagged through the area and they jigged when they should have jogged and ran their car up in under one of the tractor trailers.
It took me another hour to get to a road that showed up on my map and I was wheezing and out of breath the whole time. My legs felt like jell-o. The problem was the road I had found was Alt US27 and not US27/US41 like I needed. I was so far turned around there wasn’t any fixing it that night. There was no place to stay off of Alt US27 so I tried cutting north and didn’t find too much there either, at least not building wise. There was a couple of houses but I wasn’t thinking good and didn’t want to risk getting caught.
I finally found a barn on CR241 that looked like a place nobody bothered with too much, got inside and did my best to hide in one of the old stalls that was furthest from the road. My legs and backside hurt so bad by that point that all I wanted to do was crawl into a ball and pretend the night had never happened.
I woke up to the sound of a tractor and that’s when I realized I was a lot closer to a house than I thought I had been. There were chickens and kids in the yard and I could hear two women talking while they hung up clothes. I have to admit that it’s true what they say about praying harder when you have to admit you aren’t the one in control. I prayed all day that no one would come in the barn to find out why the dog kept wandering in and out. It finally lost its curiosity about dinner time when everyone went back in the house.
The smells that came out of the house were so good they made my stomach hurt. I could smell fried chicken and fresh bread for sure but there were other smells that were just as good that I couldn't identify. And there I was stuck eating cold ravioli again. I guess the family in the house lived by “early to bed and early to rise” because things got quiet faster than I expected.
I slowly got out of the barn after I made sure to put everything back the way I found it and had just put my leg over the bike to take off when this voice said, “Was wondering if you were gonna come out of there or not.”
I must have looked scared cause the old man said, “Don’t worry girl, I ain’t gonna hurt you. But since you been staying in my barn I reckon you owe me some answers.”
My mouth was really dry. I took my leg off the bike and turned around so I could look him in the eye. He still had a head of hair but it was pure white. He was wearing a pair of rough Dickie work pants and a short sleeved shirt that flapped over a white tank-type undershirt. I immediately thought of my Granddaddy only this man had lots more hair.
“Where you from girl?”
When I didn’t answer him right away he asked, “Cat got your tongue?”
“No sir. You remind me of somebody and I don’t want to lie to you.”
“Well good cause I’m not partial to liars if you want to know the truth. You come on over here where we can talk better and I’ll give you something the missus set aside for you.”
I don’t know what kept me from running away ‘cause I could have but instead I did what he told me to do and rolled my bike over to some old metal yard chairs that were needing a new coat of paint. He pointed at me to sit down and when I did, he did.
“Now, you eat this and as soon as you’re through I want my question answered.”
I gnawed that chicken leg down to the bone and even ate the gristle. And I hadn’t had a biscuit like that since my Momma was alive. It was a real biscuit, not one that came out of a can.
I wiped my mouth and hands and folded the bone up in the napkin. He took it and put it in his pocket “for soup tomorrow." Then he just crossed his arms and looked at me and I knew it was time. So I told him my story and he didn’t interrupt, not once.
“Well, the easiest way to get back to 27 from here is to keep going north on 241 until you get to 335. Take a right on 335 and you ain’t got but a couple miles ‘til 335 intersects with 27. Then you take a left and you just keep going until you get where you mean to get.”
My mouth fell open and the old man laughed. “Girl, I’m too old to try and stop somebody that is as set to do something as you seem to be. I know what it feels like when you got some place to be but you just remember this, you cain’t get through this life alone. One o’ these days you are going to need to stop and find you some friends again. You just make sure they’re the right kind o’ friends, you hear?”
He walked me to the gate and pointed me in the right direction and then I did something I hadn’t done in a long, long time. I gave the old man a hug. He patted my back and then I was off feeling like that angel had been at work again.
The directions were so easy I didn’t have to write them down and just like he told me it didn’t take me long to get back to US41/US27 and I headed north-ish again at this little town called Raleigh. Seven miles down the road from there was the town of Archer where I got chased by some big ol’ dogs, but no one came out to see what they were barking about. Ten miles after that came Newberry and that’s where I’ve been stuck for the passed two days.