After leaving the Firestation on Monday morning we headed back down towards the Gulf to see if the paved bike path picked back up. And that it did! Excitedly we hopped back on the paved path and again spent our entire day within 25ft of the beach. Also we had an amazing surprise of sunshine! It was supposed to be cloudy but the sun decided against that and blasted all the clouds away. Stopping a lot along the beach to relax, snack, and call our parents to catch up, we again had a very leisurely day of traveling. Although, while we were underway due to the paved path with no stop signs or intersections we made really good time and had already travelled 25 miles by 11am. When we stayed with our hosts from warmshowers.com outside of New Orleans they had mentioned that Ocean Springs, MS was a really cute little town and that we should check out the Main Street. So once we came down another rather long and steep bridge and arrived in Ocean Springs we decided to splurge a little and go out to lunch. We pedaled along the beach for a bit before turning left onto Washington Street. Finding a café with fresh sandwiches, salads, and sweet potato fries we sat outside and drank water with lemon while munching on the freshest food I’ve had in a while. I must say that is one of the things I am most excited for when this journey ends- going back to eating only healthy, fresh, non packaged foods!
After lunch we checked Google Maps for our route that would take us 14 miles to Shepard State Park. The weather was calling for thunderstorms on Tuesday and we decided to take a zero day at a campground rather than peddle into 15mph winds with rain. Arriving at the state park around 2:45pm we set up our tent and headed straight for the showers. Not having the river to shower in every other day has been interesting and we try to shower at every chance we get. Lately when we have stayed at campgrounds they have all been really catered to RV camping and not tent camping so the sites are manicured and almost look like a parking lot. Shepard State Park is completely different and I was thrilled when we said we wanted to primitive camp and the ranger said we could set up our tent anywhere we wanted as long as it was off the main road. Therefore we found a secluded little spot surrounded by tall pines, oak, and cedar trees with the ground completely covered in pine needles (which always make me think of the Box Car Kids). Kyle set up our boom tent from Solvi as a rain shelter for the bike and our gear that doesn’t go in the tent while I did some route research for the next couple days. After showering, setting up camp, and cooking some dinner we got in the tent early and read a while before falling asleep.
Awaking this morning around 7am we hung out in the tent during the rain and then once it stopped headed out to explore. The state park has many walking trails and it was a foggy morning so we enjoyed the stillness around us as we walked through the leaves and pine needle covered trails. Needing to do some laundry we biked up to a laundry mat and read while our clothes dried. We are currently sitting at a picnic table near a pavilion while some of our devices charge. Kyle is reading, I am typing. Squirrels are running all about up and down the trees while a few crows speak loudly to each other in the trees. The air is still but muggy and as I look out towards the dense trees I see fog still lingering above the ground as though it is waiting for wind or sunshine to come take it away. Today is the 13th of December and in 10 days, on the 23rd of December, regardless of where we are in Florida my dad is going to come pick us up so we can be home for Christmas. The thought of this is rather strange and I am not sure I fully comprehend it, but I am very much looking forward to seeing my family and eating healthier and fresher food. Also the idea of not having to check the weather every single day sounds pretty nice as well. 10 days, 300ish miles, and two more states to go- Kyle and I are making sure to enjoy every last moment!
Pedaling away from Shepard State Park we were bundled up and ready for the gray, foggy day ahead of us. While it never did rain, there was a consistent mist that left the surface of things a bit damp. Our destination was 48 miles to Dauphin Island, AL where we would stay at another ‘warmshowers’ host. The day was spent mostly on the sides of highways, which was actually pretty fitting for the gloominess of the day. It seems that whenever we have days of pedaling that aren’t very attractive and on the highways it is gray and gloomy outside. Whereas when we have days spent by the beach the sun is shining. We played some music out of our speaker in order to keep us motivated as we pedaled into the wind and mist. Around 3pm we arrived at the bridge leading into Dauphin Island; Mobile Bay surrounded us on both sides as we approached the bridge. At this time the fog was so thick I felt I could have sliced it with a knife. We pedaled up this massive bridge and couldn’t even see the water looming 65ft below. On the map Dauphin Island looks so incredibly beautiful and there we were, on top of a 65ft bridge overlooking Dauphin Island, yet I couldn’t see a speck of land; it was a strange feeling being so encapsulated in fog. Continuing on down the bridge we coasted onto the bike trail that runs the length of the island before turning left to our hosts’ house. Our hosts, Jim and Jan (for those of you who are cyclists Jim is crazyguyonabike) were not on the island but have set their house up so that touring cyclist can camp under their house which is on tall stilts. The set up was so nice- a porta potty, flat covered spot for our tent, a small table and chairs, a hammock, an outlet, wifi unlocked, and some lights. The temperature was dropping as we set up our tent and cooked some hot soup and rice. Bundled up in our sleeping bag and liners before the sun even went down we spent the remainder of our evening reading while sipping on hot tea. Thank you so much Jim and Jan for allowing us a safe place to camp under your house!
Dauphin Island is the southern most island on Mobile Bay and to save ourselves over 100 miles of pedaling we decided to take the ferry across Mobile Bay to Fort Morgan. Running a bit late we pedaled our fastest on the bike trail in order to make the 8am ferry. The morning was sunny, but freezing and extremely windy; gusts were about 35 from the North which brought the temperature down considerably. When we arrived at the booth to pay the fee to get on the ferry the man told us that he could only send us across on the ferry if we were one way as they weren’t sure the ferry would be able to make any more trips the rest of the day due to the wind. This was fine with us and we pedaled onto the ferry. One of the employees showed us a small, partially opened room on the ferry that we could stand. I wasn’t quite sure why he was offering for us to be inside, but said thank you anyway. 10 minutes later I fully understood why they were suggesting we hide in the room. About 5 cars were on the ferry with us, filled with people sitting in the warmth of the heated car; then there was Kyle and I, standing near the railing with our tandem bicycle. At first it was enjoyable as we watched the 4ft waves crash against the side of the ferry as it left the safety of the port. The farther we got from Dauphin Island the bigger the waves got, until suddenly they were crashing onto the ferry causing the floor to be covered in cold salt spray. I looked down at my socks and sandals and Kyle’s loafers and started to giggle. We were freezing, it was windy, and we kept getting sprayed with salt water. Pushing the bike into the small room we tried to hide, but the floor was exposed and the water kept coming in. Kyle found a broom and spent 15 minutes pushing the water out as to keep our exposed feet somewhat dry. It was cold and wet, but still absolutely beautiful. The sun shining down on the breaking waves, the flock of seagulls using the boat as a way to get across the bay, and a few dolphin in the distance. Kyle and I both felt a bit relieved when we saw Fort Morgan in the distance as it meant dry land and pedaling to keep us warm. We said our thank you’s, hopped off the ferry, changed our socks, and pedaled the 24 miles to our next camping spot.
Fort Morgan was an awesome little Island that was very bike friendly. We enjoyed a paved bike path separate from the road and as the day continued the temperature rose a bit. Finding a sunny patch on the bike path we made green tea and sandwiches for lunch. Around 2:30 we arrived at Gulf State Park to camp for the evening. The state park is massive and we explored the trails near our campsite which were peaceful and warm protected from the wind chill. Overall, despite being cold, it was a fun day filled with new places to explore and sunshine.