As I mentioned before, my concerns about the rest of my trip to Randleman N.C. are with Black Bears. My thoughts on the ride from Kingsland to Brunswick were consumed with imaginary encounters with Black Bears on the long stretches of wooded areas. I pictured myself repairing a flat tire where no 7-11 has gone before and suddenly looking up to see a small Black Bear cub staring back at me. Gentle as a newborn puppy this would be my worst nightmare scenario. Meeting a full grown Black Bear on it’s own I would have some chance of negotiation. A chance of facing off and possibly avoiding a full confrontation with a meat shredder. But with this cute little cuddly bear near me I would stand no chance of mother’s wrath. No questions asked I would simply turn from son, brother, Dad, Uncle, Grandfather, traveler, into roadkill.
In the research I’ve done I learned that even the experts don’t agree on some tactics. “Never look a Black Bear in the eye” says one guide on surviving bear encounters. “Look the bear directly in the eye” says another. Maybe if I do a 50/50 the bear will be happy. One guide says to climb a tree if you have the chance and the other clearly states to never climb a tree. Either way they all agree that running away is sure death. Black Bears can run up to 30 mph. I could reach speeds like that easily with my loaded bike if I were on the down side of many of those bridges I rode across back in Ft. Myers, FL. I saw 30+ mph a couple of times but mostly my average fastest bike speed is about 15 mph on flat ground.
From what I’ve learned, during a worst case encounter, I should have three devices with me to increase my survival rate. One item I have already. An air horn. I bought this before I left on my journey for use on loose dogs. Dogs love to chase moving objects. A quick blast from the horn should scare off 99% of dogs running after you.
The second device recommended is bear spray. Bear spray is simply pepper spray that shoots farther than the pepper spray you might use on a purse snatcher. The downside with pepper spray is wind. You might get so caught up in defending yourself that you won’t notice the wind is blowing in your face and so the pepper spray would too.
The last resort defense device would be a flare. Much like a safety road flare you would use along the highway when you breakdown. There are 3 minute flares on the market that would work in this case. It is suggested to get flares that ignite by pulling a string rather than striking. That sounds good when you say it fast but it seems that if you pull the string and the flare doesn’t ignite, you’re all out of luck unless you already have another flare in your hand to try again. And at $48 for 4 flares I would hope they would ignite on the first scream.
So with all these pleasant thoughts running through my mind and big logging trucks barreling past me on the highway, I finally start seeing signs of the next town coming up. Usually it’s a 55 mph sign if you’ve been riding on a 65 mph road. Next would be the churches on the outskirts of town and then the WELCOME signs.
Woodbine has a nice but very short cement, 1 mile bike trail. The cement rectangles were just uneven enough and just about as long as the spacing between my front and back wheels which, when ridden over at just the right speed would bounce the whole bike up and down like an amusement ride merry-go-round. At the end of the trail was a wide, wooden walkway that ran along the Satilla River and back under Rt. 17 then into a small park area. This is where I could get back on the main highway to Waverly.
Waverly is a just small town with few houses and fewer convenience stores. Waverly is where I go from due North to due East on Rt. 25. Not quite the halfway point to Brunswick. Somewhere far off there was a wildfire burning and the smoke seemed to spread for miles close to the ground. I guess smoke doesn’t always rise. I would smell the smoke for the rest of my ride to Brunswick. The sky has been cloudy all day and now it was beginning to look like rain.
At Spring Bluff my course stayed the same but the route number changed from 25 to 303. After about a mile and a half on 303 I came to another one of those bridges where you take your own life into your hands. You MUST have faith that drivers will let you live. The bridge was less than a quarter mile long but seemed like two miles. Again my saddlebags made me wider than the path I was on. Luckily traffic was light and everyone lived.
After a few more minutes of riding, the rain drops slowly started to drop from the sky. They were big drops and I could hear them hitting the windshields of the cars passing by me. I passed a small place that had a sign out front that read, LIVE AND DEAD BAIT. In the back I could see a possible place to duck into if the clouds let loose. I rode for one more minute and sure enough, it started to rain harder. I pulled a U-turn in the middle of the road and raced back to the bait place. This was to be a heartwarming experience for me.
Jones Live Bait was the heading on the sign. I rode to the back of the sand and gravel parking lot where there was white painted structure with large screen windows and and a smaller addition that looked like a storage shed or store room. It was built alongside a marsh next to a small river that curved around in front of it. Agnes & Tom Jones were the owners of the bait shop. Tom, being the son of Agnes, was the first person I met. He smiled as soon as soon as he saw me. “I was hoping you might let me take refuge from the rain here!” I said loudly to overcome the sound of the falling rain on the tin roof and the water jets spraying into the bait tanks inside the white structure. “Come on in” he replied while keeping his welcoming smile. He was a stocky man with black and gray hair and some scars on his arms that looked work related. It turned out that most of them were scars from sun cancer that he had removed on several occasions.
I could see Tom had been pretty busy before I got there. He looked wet from either the rain or sweat or both. He was picking things out of a white five gallon plastic bucket and throwing them into a smaller tin can nearby. I looked a little closer and saw he was sorting shrimp and squid. We chatted a bit about how I came to be at his place when Agnes, a 76 year old woman with gold rimmed glasses, wearing a light, white printed shirt and light blue shorts walked in. I introduced myself and she held out her crooked hand to greet me with a handshake. Tom spoke up and mentioned he needed to get to get a few bags out of the back of his pick-up truck. He grabbed a nearby wheel barrow with a slightly flat tire and steered it toward the truck and dropped the tailgate. Agnes pushed my arm and told me help him. He had three bags of cement in the back of the truck and wanted to get them out of the rain. We loaded the wheel barrow and as Tom pushed it into the structure I noticed the tire got flatter and tougher to move.
Tom was busy and didn’t let my presence interrupt his work. He grabbed the white bucket and carried it to the edge of the river where there was dock with a gangway that led down onto another dock where his shrimp boat was tied to it. As his head disappeared down over the edge of the river bank, Agnes and I talked some more. Her face had smooth wrinkles that seemed to emanate from her small mouth. She asked where I came from and I told her I started out from Merritt Island FL on June 1st but just got there from Kingsland.
She talked about her son, Tom and how she taught him how to catch shrimp. When she was thirty years old her husband told her she would have to learn how to catch shrimp. He was many years older than she and would lose him soon. She would have to raise her children and would have to catch shrimp to provide for them. With pride she said that she did learn how to catch shrimp and taught her son how to do it too. She ran the shrimp boats and worked the nets by herself in all kinds of weather that was recorded on the leather tough skin on her arms. Agnes didn’t have a good education but she made sure her children got a better education than she did. Many nights she spent learning and helping her children do their school work. All she wanted was for them to graduate high school. And they did. And she was proud.
She asked again where I was from and I simply said “Merritt Island” thinking the rest would all come back to her. She was satisfied with my answer.
Next I would meet June, the daughter of Agnes. She was a tall thin woman about 45 years old who seemed to smile as much as Tom. June had certain gestures and ticks that indicated some kind of illness. She kept mostly to herself and didn’t seem to talk very much unless she was asked questions. Tom mentioned that she was diagnosed with O.C.D. and had recently been overcoming some of the symptoms. Able to drive, June didn’t live with Agnes and Tom and had her own trailer where she lived by herself. Sometimes she comes to help Agnes with the business when Tom is out in the boat.
With thunderstorms rolling in and night coming on, Tom offered to let me set up my tent alongside the house. I accepted with humble appreciation and went to work.
With the day’s work done, Tom and I went into town to get dinner. For the first time in a long time, I got to sit down and have dinner “family style” with the Jones’s. Before we ate, Tom said a prayer. Agnes was in charge of the paper towels that sat on the table next to her. Her eyesight isn’t too good anymore because of cataract surgery and sometimes needed help finding things on the table.
In our conversation at the table, Agnes asked me again where I was from. I realized then that Agnes may have Alzheimer’s disease which Tom later confirmed. She talked again about how she raised her children by herself and how her husband told her she would have to learn how to catch shrimp to provide for them and how she worked the boat and the nets. I listened and replied like it was the first time she mentioned it. I would hear these stories several more times throughout my stay and each time would listen again to what she had to say as if it was the first time I heard it. I just wanted to hug her. Later that night, I asked her if I could and she insisted. Her small, frail body felt wonderful in my arms and she kissed me on the cheek as we parted.
That night a thunderstorm rolled in and lightning cracked all around us. My tent would light up bright orange inside from the color of my rain-fly that protected me from the storm. I stayed high and dry with the exception of the humidity and in spite of all the weather, I got a good night’s sleep.
One thing that I was fascinated by was the tide in the river. When I first rode onto the property the tide was low. Tom had to cautiously descend down the steep gangway to get to his boat below. By night time, the gangway was horizontal as it rose up with the free floating dock that the shrimp boat was tided to. The river swelled from a small stream to a wide lazy river that made a large U shaped curve. On the southern horizon of the marsh about two miles away was the Georgia-Pacific pulp mill. It resembled a huge ship with smoke stacks billowing out smoke that blended with the storm and wildfire clouds in the air. The sound of heavy machinery and production from the plant was a constant ambient sound across the marsh.
Earlier, I had taken photos of Tom and Agnes. I meant to get one of June but I saw so little of her I never remembered to ask her when I did see her. I showed Tom via my laptop, the photos I had taken of them. He was totally amazed that my little camera could make such a big photo. I showed him his house using Google Earth and the cached data on my computer. He’s never had a computer but has spent a little time at the library trying to learn how to surf the net. In addition to his bait shop, Tom is also adding fishing tackle for sale to supplement his income. He intends to buy his products online to get better prices.
I mentioned to Tom that I noticed his sign out by the highway. LIVE AND DEAD BAIT. I told him he might be able to increase his sales if he changed the sign to read: LIVE AND FROZEN BAIT. The word “DEAD” just didn’t appeal to me and suggested something was going to stink pretty bad. He informed me that the law required he worded his sign the way it is. So much for my marketing skills.
The next day I learned a little more about shrimping. It was much like catching scallops. I worked on a scallop boat out of Port Canaveral for a few months in the early 80’s after I moved to Florida. It was still raining and Tom decided to just stay home and serve his customers for the day. We sat at the kitchen table and I listened to Tom and Agnes tell me about their family.
Agnes doesn’t cook very much anymore mostly because of her eyesight. Tom cooks once in a while, but mostly they just run into town and buy ready made food and bring it home to eat. Tom and I drove into town in his pick-up to get dinner. The rain was starting to let up and it looked as if we might see some sunshine. After we ate, the sun did break through and my tent dried out enough that I was able to start packing it up to get back on the road.
Before I left, Tom and I headed back into town so I could make some prints of the photos I took of him and Agnes.
I gave Tom a small Orion pin that I brought with me that came from Kennedy Space Center, along with a red ribbon that was gold stamped with the name and mission number of space shuttle Endeavour’s last flight. Tom informed me that Agnes was waiting to say goodbye to me back at the house. She was waiting for me out on the porch. She looked so sweet and frail and I felt a love for her that warmed me inside. We hugged each other for a short time and she kissed me again on the cheek wishing me good luck and a safe trip. She gave me God’s blessing and as I walked off she continued to give me orders to take care of myself. I felt very gifted to meet the Jones family and be invited to share a day in their lives. I wish Tom, June and Agnes peace and happiness.
Total Mileage: 1,398