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Toronto to Miami Beach on Bicycle

The 1976 tour.

The 1976 tour.

For this my 35th hub I go back in time 35 years: to 1977, the year I graduated from high school, and the summer that my friend Mark ‘the Rocket man’ and I rode our bikes from Toronto to Miami Beach.

It wasn’t our first long distance bike tour. The previous (Bicentennial) summer we had toured Appalachia, riding from our hometown Lexington, Kentucky south to Gatlinburg, Tennessee; then over the Smoky Mountains to Cherokee, North Carolina and on into the northwest corner of South Carolina, west into northern Georgia, and then back, through central Tennessee and Kentucky, to Lexington: a ~800 mile loop. Two summers before that (when I was 15 and he 14) we had had taken our first overnight bike tour by riding from Lexington to Natural Bridge State Park and back, a ~120 mile round trip.

I left Lexington that same year (1974, a few weeks after our Natural Bridge trip, and the very day that Nixon boarded a helicopter and left the White House), moving with my family to Switzerland for two years; and then in 1976, to Toronto, where I spent my senior year. Mark and I planned our next bike trip by letter and phone. After graduating, to finance the trip I spent the month of June building a terraced garden for my dad, accompanied by the latest hits blasting from rock radio: the Eagles’ ‘Life in the Fast Lane’, Foreigner’s ‘Feels Like the First Time’, and Jimmy Buffet’s ‘Margaritaville’. Star Wars premiered, and I rode my bike to the theater to see it, and like everyone else was blown away; riding home in the dark, I fantasized I was piloting a starfighter. During that month I trained by taking long-distance day rides on weekends.

Mark traveled by Greyhound bus from Lexington to Toronto right after the 4th of July weekend, arriving on the 7th, and spent the night at my house. We departed early the next morning. Both of us rode Azuki Gran Sport 10 speeds (mine white, his metallic blue) equipped with Bugger pannier and handlebar bags stuffed with our gear. We each had sleeping bags, and I an REI pup tent, bungied to our rear racks. For headgear I wore a golf cap—no helmets in those days!

The following chronicle is transcribed verbatim (with minimal censorship—so be forewarned of some blue language) from the journal I kept of our trip. For a glimpse into the mind of my 18 year old self, read on:

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Bicycle Tour: Toronto to Florida

Day 1 – 7/8/77

- 80 miles to Niagra Falls

- 9 dead animals

- 9:00 p.m., on picnic table, in Whirlpool State Park, off Highway 104

After one good days ride we’re ready to hit the sack (under the stars) as soon as it turns dark. Today started at 6:30 a.m., on a cool, misty, wet morning. Rode through the city during rush hour, which was a mahthuh fahkuh. Met two cyclists from Macon, Georgia, on their way to the West coast, then south, then back east (circle). Mark’s been pretty tired today, so I hope we can keep up a good pace and make it to Miami. Weather is better now, so everything should be o.k. for a while. Until we hit Pennsylvania, mahthuh fahkah. No bike problems yet.

Day 2 – 7/9/77

- 80 miles to Pavilion, N.Y.

- 55 dead animals

- 12:05 p.m., the next day, outside a grocery store in Dansville, N.Y.

Hard days ride yesterday, in hot, dry weather. Met some folks from Va., and a nice guy in Pavilion, who gave us some beer. More in tonight’s entry.

Day 3 – 7/10/77

- 90 miles to Penn. Border

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- 117 dead animals

- 9:20 p.m., in back of a school house, where we will stay

Today was the longest haul yet, a tiring drag over foothills and into a headwind. We’re feeling better about it though, and we’re ready for any motherf—kin mountains that come our way. Started at a good pace and continued on hard for 40 miles. With few stops we rode another 50. At one point a caravan (funeral?) of vans passed us by. That was neat. So far we feel we can still make it to Miami; no bike problems yet. Dinners have been pretty good—especially tonight, since (it being Sunday) we ate out at a Spaghetti House. First night we had Ravioli (canned) and fruit cocktail. Last night we had Mashed hamburger, bread, beans, and pineapple; Hawaiian Punch to drink. The bread and peanut butter is still servin’ us, though it could use some jelly. Muthuh F—kin’ mountains here we come! Damnation. Tent, sleepin’ bag, here I come!!

Day 4 – 7/11/77

- 15 miles to some little town in Penn. Mountains

- 28 dead animals so far

- 11:20 a.m., sitting drinking coffee in a little gas station-diner off Hway 15

It’s pouring down rain outside now, and a southerly wind is blowin’ at us at about 20 m.p.h. Riding in it is like swimming through tar. We’re stopped here, letting the worst of the storm pass. Today everything is against us. Headwind. Mountains. Rain. TRAFFIC, with mothuh f—kin trucks. Dad nabit. We both need a shower, like Really.

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Day 4 – continued

- 77 miles to a little trailer park in the mountains, 15 miles beyond Williamsport on Hway 15

- Dead animals: 65

- 9:10 p.m., ready to hit the hay.

I just locked the bikes up and am getting ready to cover them. Today was great, for me at least. Mark’s got a cold. After the café we hit the mountains, and then rain hit us. After a while with rain jackets we decided we were getting just as wet from perspiration as we would from the rain, so we took them and our shirts off. The mountains weren’t bad at all—we’ve seen worse. We had the wind against us, which was kind of bad. Temptation got the best of us in Williamsport (60 mi.), and we ate at a MacDonald’s. Oh well. Tonight we both took showers and washed our clothes. Dammit I feel so CLEAN now.

Good night, the bugs are startin’ to bite.

Day 5/6 – 7/12/77 and 7/13/77

- 75 miles to Harrisburg

- 157 dead animals

- the afternoon after, sitting in a gas station; Mark just took 1½ hours to repair a flat; 6:00 p.m.

DAMNATION

The past two days have really tired our souls. Yesterday started out fine, though a bit hot. First thing that went wrong: broken spoke on Mark’s bike. Wasn’t that bad, just delayed an hour. We were on the road again soon enough. The traffic on 15, outside Harrisburg was SHIT. So if traffic, heat, and broken spoke weren’t enough, at 5:00 we were caught in on helluva mothuh f—kin thunderstorm/cloudburst. We were forced to stop in a Ford dealer. Mark went ahead and took a shower in the rain, soap and all. Looked pretty funny. After about 1½ hours we were off again. Ate at MacDonald’s, found a schoolyard, and spent a wet night.

Today started (lately) at 8:00 much the same way. After making good time to Gettysburg, we decided to take a refreshing dip in a hotel pool. That was sure NASS!!

However, after leaving Gettysburg, getting into Maryland was hotter than a Muthuh F—kuh. Then another cloudburst. Than a flat tire for Mark. In two places. Cheap patches that didn’t stick. Delays, Delays. We’re going to eat dinner now, then haul asses. Well into the night Goddammit.

Today’s animal count so far: 63

[Inserted later:] That night continued bad, and we finally had the tube repaired in a Gas Station for $1.00. Dinner of cold sandwiches at store, camped in churchyard.

Day 7/8 – 7/14-15/77

- 100 Miles through Washington to Va. Border

- 25 dead animals

- on July 8 [sic], sitting behind a post office in Saluda, Va., where we just ate dinner (hot dogs, potato salad, apple sauce). 6:40 p.m.

Yesterday was fairly good all around. We got up early (6:00) and hit the road, Maryland highway 97, to Washington. We made fairly good time, considering (a) bad road, lots of hills, bumps, (b) 2 flat tires on my bike, both on front tire, (c) traffic outside Washington. Despite all of that, we arrived in Washington about 12:30 p.m. We took a look around there, and after getting lost in the center of the city, we were off again at 2:30. We got on U.S. Highway 301 and after 30 miles or so we were stopped by the police—for riding illegally on a fast (55 m.p.h.) road. We each received a warning (written), and then went ahead riding illegally. We weren’t caught and made the bridge over the Potomac around 7:30. There we had to put our bikes on a police truck to cross, as it was illegal for bikes to do so. So much for Maryland.

Camped in church yard, 5 miles across border in Va.

Today we’ve ridden about 70 miles on U.S. 17, and have had a pretty good day. Took a long dip in a campground pool, took showers, and I had another flat. Other than that the main event of the day was helping a fallen hawk off the road, where he was dying of the heat. But now I’ve got to go...

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That day we rode another 15-20 miles after I had phoned Aunt Mary Lou, and we camped in the back of Gloucester High School, fearing the red-necks all night...

Day 9 – 7/16/77

- this is being written three days later, waiting for the ferry on Ocracoke, N.C.

We woke up about 7:30 and headed south on Hwy 17. We crossed the Jones River Bridge, which must have been 5 miles across. It got very hot that day. We had to take a police van through one tunnel outside Portsmouth (?), then we rode through the Norfolk area, hot, dirty, and tired, 15 miles to Glenn and Mary Lou’s place. When we arrived I had the most refreshing beer and the best lunch I’ve ever had.

Weekend of 7/16-7/17

Had a very enjoyable stay at Glenn and Mary Lou’s where we were fed well (must have gained back the 7 pounds I’d lost), had a good time at the beach and with the family (Mark had an especially good time with Jon Glenn). The weekend was just what we needed to give us our second major wind. (First real meals I’d had in 3 weeks)

Day 11 – 7/18/77

- writing this one day afterwards, 7/19, riding the ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island

Yesterday started out great. We woke up at 6:00 at Uncle Glenn’s place, where we packed up and ate a large refreshing breakfast. We started out in cool morning weather at about 7:30 a.m. and rode on south on Hwy 168 then U.S. Hwy 158. Around noon the heat started causing problems—with our problem infested tires. This time it was Mark’s front tire: Blow out. The tube was so ripped and it was so hot (making the glue run) that we had to employ the extra Sears Shit tube. We broke the valve in that, and we couldn’t pump it with our little shit lightweight hand-pumps, so we did the only thing possible—Mark took the tire and hitched a ride to a gas station ½ mile down the road. Once there he filled it up, but in vain, for by the time he had gotten back to me the tire was just about flat again. Well we messed with that tube for a f—king long time and finally, with 3 patches (2 new) and a new valve it was fixed and we were on our delayed way again.