June 21, 1998
Well, the first day seemed to never end. I had a late start (sleeping off the Alka-Seltzer Cough and Cold medicine in a last-ditch effort to slough off a lingering summer cold before I left on the trip), and ended up losing over an hour getting lost in Savannah, GA. Mistake number one of the day was not stopping at the Visitor Center at the Georgia border and getting a map. Mistake number two of the day was trying to get on my bike from the side the bike was leaning away from with my canvas bag in my hand and my pack on. In the six years I have been riding motorcycles I have never seriously burned my legs on the exhaust pipes of the three motorcycles I have owned. So much for that streak. Hey, what's a few blisters and some discoloring? It builds character for the road ahead. Mistake number three was deciding I really wanted to eat at a Ryans and their excellent buffet and not realizing that the buffet is really expensive on Sundays, and waiting too long to eat. After getting quite full and enjoying the very cool air-conditioning, I found my motivation to drive the remaining 120 miles I had planned for the day non-existant. I did manage to put in 20 or so more miles before pulling off for the night.

I also found my motivation to camp for the night dependant on whether I could find any of the motels with rooms for $22.95 as they advertisized along the freeway. Given that there was a campground just up the road, I would be willing to pay for a motel room only if it was at that rate. I did find one, and so at 7pm, I called it a day. Plenty of nights ahead to stay at campsites; no need to be masochistic the first night out ;-)

June 22, 1998

I see now the unusually intense leg burn I received yesterday was no fluke. Temperatures near or above 100 and incredible humidity levels are driving my motorcycle to previously unseen levels of "hot". What used to be mild "ouch" events are now full blown blister raising burns. Both sides of both legs now have different sized brown spots. I'm getting more cautious, though, now that I know better.

I make good time this morning, going form south of Savannah to the GA-FLA border before 10:30 am. After stopping for a small second breakfast I turn east and head for the Atlantic seaboard at Fernandina Beach and the A1A. The smoke is heavier, a harbinger of things to come. The Atlantic is different than along the SC coast, but it could be a trick of the murky light. I travel south along the coast until the A1A crosses an intercoastal waterway, but I turn west finally, outside of Jacksonville.

The traffic on I-10 immediately west of Jacskonville is packed with 18 wheelers in both lanes. There's no room to pass, and all I can do is draft behind one for several miles. Inside the sipstream it is quiet and calm, but the heat coming off the road and the truck ahead make it unpleasant. I pass a huge railroad center and the trucks are gone, apparently couriers between the seaport in Jacksonville and the railway.

I-10 is a harsh road, not in the sense of the quality of the road, but in the casulties it claims. There are call boxes every couple of miles, and more than once I saw a vehicle limping toward the next one, a blown tire still draggable. Others weren't so lucky and I stopped to ferry one fellow from Texas to the nearest repair station. It was hot enough on my bike, and too hot to leave to chance a pedestrian on the side of the road.

The heat is amazing. I play dodge with the truckers, my not going fast enough to avoid being passed, but fast enough to move out from behind them when they come right. The heat builds, and around 1pm I start considering where to stop for a couple hours. The smoke had been steadily building as I left Jacksonville further behind, and into Osceola National Forest it becomes obvious the forest itself is what is on fire. I pull into a rest area but the smoke is too heavy and I see an ash or two in the air, so I press on. Inside my helmet most of the smoke is filtered out, but when I slow and open my face mask I find it difficult to breathe.

Westward toward Tallahassee the smoke gets worse. The sky turns orange, then grey. The sun is nearly overhead, but around me it's a twilight gloom. From the rare breaks in the smoke I can see it is a cloudless day above the smoke; above groundlevel the smoke is heavy enough that the temperature is dropping, maybe five or seven degrees. I can tell my bike is happier, the odd vibration that has been occuring in what is normally the engine's "sweet spot" is gone and I too am cooler, but at a price - the air is thick with smoke and for the first time my nose and throat are starting to burn.

It alternates between lighter smoke but hotter temperatures and dense sun-blocking smoke but cooler air for twenty or thirty miles. It seems to stay light and hot for a few miles, and I pull off in Live Oak, FL for a couple hours of airconditioning, nursing a Wendy's Frosty. I ask how far off the fires are, and I am shocked to hear over 50 miles. They must be huge, and I hear they are getting worse. As I ride down I-10 I can see why. Along the freeway the grass is dying, and the evergreens are outlined in brown. The underbrush is yellow and withering, and here and there are black patches from fires caught early enough. There's still a lot more in Florida that may burn, Georgia too.

West of Live Oak the smoke clears, the air sweet and clear. The sun becomes the enemy, and the heat rises even more. I'm not the only one to realize it's dangerous out here, as I am flagged down by a very nice lady waving a bottle of water out the window and pointing at me. It was such a nice gesture I didn't have the heart to tell her I had only been back on the road for around 30 minutes after a two hour break. The water was the right temperature, not so hot as to be sour, not so cold as to hurt my stomach on such a hot day.

The stretch run into Tallahassee is euphoric. The engine's sweet spot has moved up the rpm range, and I'm now doing speeds that would be hard to explain to local law enforcement, but the engine purrs and the miles fall away. It is a compromise at these speeds, between the melding of my bike with the road and the increased buffeting and ruts in the road that test my faith in the physics of rotational inertia. My mind knows the bike won't flip, but is far better to look to where I want to go than to look at the headlight wobbling back and forth with each new twitch.

This is the first real day of the trip, and it is a powerful one for me. It is also tempered by the unpleasantness at the end of the day. In Tallahassee locating a Kinko's, I watched as a block up from me a woman pulled in front of an oncoming vehicle. Her small Japanese compact station wagon was no match for the impacting dualie Ford pickup truck, and I knew from the spray of glass and the volume of the impact that she would not come out well. I wasn't one of the first on the scene, and I wouldn't have stopped but the woman was riding with her windows up and her doors locked. I knew the glass would have to be broken in order to get the doors open, and I was wearing my blue jean jacket was everyone else was in tanktops and shorts. I had a lot of gear to drop, though, and someone else was through the side window before I was done. Seeing that no one else knew what to do after that, I went around to the driver side, where she had been hit. I had hoped that there wouldn't be too much to be worried about, but instead it was more that there was little I could do. She was ghastly white, and blood was running from the side her head and out from her ear. It was clear that her head had made contact with the intruding bumper of the pickup truck, and she was somewhere between shock and death. Her breath was short and desperate, and although her eyes were open, she was unresponsive to people talking to her. Paramedics arrived shortly afterward, and I got on my bike and rode off, not needing to stay around to see the outcome.

I'm at the Kinko's now, and soon I'll post this and check my email, responding to what I can. Afterward I'll get something to eat, and find a campground. Tomorrow is another day.

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