I'm so close! I hadn't realized how close until I planned the next leg of my journey after I woke up today. Right now I'm at this place called Ichetucknee Springs State Park.
Last night I left Newberry as soon as I could with a bright moon to light my way. What I saw by the light of the moon made me glad I was finally able to get gone. Cars had been pushed off the road all willy-nilly and lots of houses and businesses had doors that were either standing open or ripped off. Something bad had happened around there.
I pedaled for all I was worth 'cause no way did I want to get caught by anyone that was still living in those conditions, they might steal my stuff. I made a quick thirteen miles to High Springs weaving in and out of the cars blocking the road. High Springs looked even worse than Newberry. I think mostly because all the buildings on the main roads were wooden and some kind of fire had come through. I don't know how long ago but it was long enough ago that the burnt out buildings didn't smell anymore.
I remembered just in time that I had to break off from US41 and stay on US27. I had to U-turn at the intersection where all those roads came together and split apart but that was all. Another 10 miles and I had made Fort White. It was just as bad if not worse than High Springs.
There were still a couple of hours of dark left - not to mention I didn't see a place I was willing to stay for the night - so I kept going, but I got real tired real fast after that. Biking nearly 25 miles will do that to you. There was hardly any buildings after I left Fort White and the ones that were there, like the one that said it was some kind of auction house and a couple of churches, were severely trashed. And there were cars all over the place too. I couldn’t figure out what happened but there were cars in both the coming and going lanes and in the middle where you are only supposed to turn. Most of the cars looked like they had been ransacked so there were clothes and toys everywhere.
Then I saw a sign for Ichetucknee and I remembered how my family used to go tubing there. I really, really wanted to see it again and I figured I’d be far enough off the road that no one would bother me. I turned into the south entrance in the park and had to slow way down. A little ways in there was a big truck parked across the road, I guess so cars couldn’t get into the park.
I started getting real careful in case someone was around with the same idea as I had. The door to the entrance station was empty and the door was hanging wide open and it smelled like a critter of some type had used it for a bathroom. The further I got into the park the more it felt deserted, like no one was home. I was more scared of that feeling than I was of thinking there might be people and the feeling made me want to find a place to hide real quick.
But it wasn’t real quick. The wind was picking up and the sky was that shade of dark before the dawn that I had come to recognize before I ran across what I was looking for; it was the concession stand and the storm covers were over all the windows. Leaves, twigs, and other trash that was blown all up around the place told me that nobody was using it and hadn’t for a while so I gave it a try.
When I looked at the door on this place I knew I wasn’t going to get in easy. Not only was the door one of those commercial metal ones, so was the doorframe. It also had a keyed bolt above the doorknob set. The windows were all covered but I was in luck that they hadn’t covered the exhaust grill. I stood on one of those big heavy wooden trash cans and used the bolt cutters to snip a off one side of the grilling and then I shoved my big screwdriver under that and pried and bent the grill until I could climb through.
I left my backpack and bike outside, climbed into the hole putting a pretty good rip in the knees of my jeans, and then climbed down using the gas range like a ladder. I hurried over to the door and was rewarded with the locks being thumb bolts on the inside of the building.
I dragged my bike and bag inside just in time to miss a blustery, early morning rainstorm; probably the leftovers of the storm that had held me prisoner in Newberry. I threw the thumb bolts and then stood trying to decide what to do. It wasn’t long before I didn’t need my headlamp any longer; there wasn’t a lot of light but there was enough coming from the small skylights in the ceiling. The floor was mostly clean so I threw the plastic sheet down and then put my sleeping bag on that.
I was hungry but too tired to cook so I ate the last can of beanie weenies and hoped my stomach wouldn’t be as upset as the last can made it. Just because no one is around it doesn’t mean that making certain sounds isn’t embarrassing which reminded me to use the employee wash room that was tucked over in the corner behind a flimsy wooden door painted the same industrial white as the rest of the of the building. It had one of those composting toilets so I didn’t have to worry about the smell so long as I left the lid down.
I barely recognized myself in the mirror over the sink. Daddy would have said I looked rode hard and hung up wet. Some of the old-fashioned things they used to say drove me crazy but I found out after I didn’t get to hear them any more I missed the phrases. I used to say them to other people just to see the reaction I would get. A few people laughed but most of the time it just reinforced that I was strange and different from everybody else.
I decided I would worry about everything after I’d gotten some sleep. The floor was hard but I was almost too tired to notice it and went to sleep using the cafeteria lady’s sweater as my pillow.
Stupid birds woke me up. I didn’t know what I was hearing at first. As soon as my heart climbed back in my chest I realized it was those big ravens. A bunch of them were roosting or whatever the heck those birds do outside the “order here/pay here” windows. The sound that their claws make when they walk across stuff is nasty. Scritch-click-scratch-peck-peck-scritch and then they let out this really big “caw!” as if I really wanted to hear what they had to say.
There was no going back to sleep with that noise so I packed up and tried to put myself in order. I’d had time when I was stuck in Newberry to finally brush all the tangles out of my hair again. When I was little Daddy wouldn’t let anyone cut my hair, he even trimmed it when it needed it unless he was TDY or something. When they died my hair was passed my waist. When I was in a coma there was this lady candy striper that would do my hair; she even kept coming when I woke up. She left to go take care of her mother right before I had to go live with Aunt Wilma and one of the first things that Aunt Wilma did “to set me free” was to have some beautician friend of hers cut my hair and perm it. I was still in a wheelchair and wasn’t talking a lot yet. I was so upset that Aunt Wilma’s friend tried to talk her out of it but Aunt Wilma said my dad was “archaic and a horrible chauvinist” and that the new hair cut would give me a new lease on life. I looked like a poodle that had stuck its tail in a light socket.
My hair is longer now and the perm has finally grown out but Aunt Wilma would never let me grow my hair passed my shoulder blades. She said the hair would clog up the plumbing; I think she just liked telling me what I could and couldn't do. At the warehouse my hair grew to the middle of my back since there wasn't anyone to make me cut it. Now I think I’m going to let my hair grow passed my rear end just to prove I can. I dare anyone to try and stop me. At least I remembered to grab all the hairbobs and clips and stuff when I was going through all those lockers at the school; it is getting too hot to let my hair fly every which a way.
I was still yawning so I knew that I hadn’t got as much sleep as I needed but I decided to use my extra time and look around. I didn’t have any use for the Styrofoam cups but I grabbed some more napkins to replace the ones from my stash that I’ve been using as toilet paper and Kleenex. There really wasn’t much but I grabbed some salt and pepper packets and some packets of vinegar and relish. Something had gotten into the ketchup and I didn’t see any mustard at all. The was a rack of candies and I tossed all of it into a gallon sized Ziploc … chewing gum, Rolaids, breath mints, Lifesavers, Sprees, and a few other things; no chocolate which was a bummer though I suppose I should be glad because it gives me zits.
There were a few packets of powdered hot cocoa and powdered apple cider and then these packets of that white powdery stuff people put in their coffee and a couple bottles of that syrup that is supposed to make coffee taste good – hazelnut, vanilla, Swiss mocha, yada, yada. I never understood it when my friends would drink coffee and Aunt Wilma wouldn’t let any kids in the house drink it because she said it was caused dental bills to go up. Weird huh? I decided to take the packages of coffee anyway because I figured since there wasn’t anyone to boss me around maybe it was time I picked up a bad habit or three.
Yeah, I know that sounds dorky but there really isn’t anyone to tell me what to do anymore. I know I’m going to have to figure some things out before I make big mistakes but I'm smart so I should do mostly OK if people will leave me alone.
The concession stand wasn’t real big and all the good stuff had already been taken away; there wasn’t even any bottled water. That led me to sit down and measure everything out. I havea little over a gallon of water left. I have a couple of days worth of food left but all the granola bars are gone. Looking at the food made me hungry so I ate a can of fruit cocktail and chased it with some peanut butter crackers. I drank the liquid the fruit was in so I only needed a swallow of water to get the syrup off my teeth to be satisfied.
I’ve decided I’m not in great shape but I should be fine especially if I’m as close to my goal as I think I am. After I repacked my backpack for a second time I sat down with my trusty map and started adding up the miles. Twenty-five miles! That’s all, maybe even a little less as I’m guessing the distance once I’m on SR49. But even worst case and it is twenty-five miles that means I only have one more night on the road!!
I’m definitely leaving just as soon as the sun is down. Look out Sparkleberry Ranch, here I come!!!
Too tired and excited to write! I’M HOME I’M HOME I’M HOME!!!!!