Yellow, Part II
Day 4 opens with the promise of a shorter, cooler, flatter day than those before. Not mentioned, but just as true, our final day of riding is destined to be more dangerous, more terrifying, and more beautiful than we could fathom while fueling up at the Waffle House steps away from our bed in Milton By The Interstate.
We track back to shoot down Santa Rosa County with Escambia Bay to our right and Eglin AFB to our left. Road construction starts. The shoulder is narrow, closer to sand and orange barrels. At a bridge over our second crossing of the Yellow River (our first the day before) the shoulder disappears. We pass over swiftly and, by luck, without same-direction traffic. As we climb out of the drainage on the other side and with the pretense of a shoulder we are successively and successfully passed by dump trucks, oversized loads and various pickups showing a distinct lack of interest to share the road.
We do arrive at the shore, within sight and smell of the Gulf, turn right and gird for the assault on the Navarre Beach Causeway, a misnomer for the high span across the protected water of the bay.
Despite a game if ill-considered attempt, the walkway is too narrow to pedal across. As soon as I rub to a halt I should back it up and ride and over in the roadway but this I fail to do. Instead the narrow path becomes a catwalk of metal grillwork, disconcertingly clanky and all too easy to see-through to the whitecaps below ever-retreating as the height and anxiety both grow in lockstep.
But over I get, and the reward is a distant horizon of beautiful dunes and surf to focus on and make my way across aided by a distraction of distinction. I shake the stress out of my fingertips and down Gatorade at the island Tom Thumb, prelude to the delight on its way.
Here we are on the final map of our adventure with benefit of cloud cover, stiff tailwind, and jade green waves. Dunes to our right. Breaking surf to our left. Straight on through the Gulf Islands National Seashore on Santa Rosa Island, a fascinating anomaly to fee-simple property ownership and, within memory and my own witness, overswept by the surge of Hurricane Ivan, a storm that left sand taller than I across the roadway on our current track.
On into Pensacola Beach and past familiar iconic sites from Palafox towers to spaceships to beach ball water towers. The sun burns through cloud cover. Traffic amasses at speed.
I propose a sprint to the end and Avery agrees. Two lanes-full of vehicles speed by. We pedal up and over Santa Rosa Sound to the isthmus of Gulf Breeze, back into Santa Rosa County, and then over Three-Mile.
Our ride ends with a cruise along Bayfront Parkway and into resurgent downtown and still further to our final courthouse.
Avery and I pedal 213 miles. We have no mechanical problems, not even a flat tire. We have no physical problems besides sore bums. I do not bonk once. We take our time and do as we wish. The weather is perfect for time of year and location on planet. We get better along the way. We learn more about the world immediately surrounding us in these four days than many of its residents and virtually all of its visitors ever do. We understand the sadness of the closed business, weeds growing up through cracks of a disused parking lot. We share the joy of a family restaurant in a country town and feel in our bones the hard work and long hours these ventures require. Pine resin and tannin mix with heat and salt to waft through honey-bright yellow light of high summer. We know the plants in bloom, know the weight of the air we roll through.
There is no sense denying the treacly truth, either: It is an adventure both of us will remember and talk about the rest of our lives. Until the next one.