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Race, bikes and plants.

The two wheeled experience

"Ahhggg! Nasty clouds of gnats." Seems like every time when we take a bike
ride out Wachootda road and do a loop around Lake Sweatahaha, we get a mouth
full of them. You never seem to see them till it's too late. Eating one or
two is not bad, they really don't have much taste or texture, but a mouth
full it is disturbing. Inadvertently  your natural reaction is to spit them
out and feeling them crunch apart as you expel but there's something primal
about exercising and you just swallow the bugs anyway. Add a nice coat of
sweat in the hot swampy Cypress forest and you end up looking like a bug
splattered car windshield. Ian was drafting me  avoiding the splatter. We
headed out in search of the perfect country road:  no cars, smooth pavement
and nice lovat scenery.
    I rode with one eye on the lookout for the aquatic weeds growing along
side the roads in the water filled ditches. We were moving along at a good
clip when I slammed my brakes. Ian almost hit me. I was not thinking about
safety, just plants. "Micranthemum umbrosum" I exclaimed. I grabbed several
handfuls and put them in the zipper pocket of the Camel bak and we took off
again. I did not think it'd make the trip home without drying out but it did
surprisingly. We came up to Logoohoochee Creek road and took a left. Ian
bitched to give him a warning next time I decide to slam the brakes and go
botanist on him. 
    I'd been pretty good about not hitting him with "snot rockets" when we
rode together but I got nailed as we came into town on Apokattoo road but
not by Ian's snot rockets, it was a a young girl, perhaps 7 years old with
two children even younger with her. She spit right in my face as we slowed
down for the traffic light crossing HWY 331.
     I wondered if she had done it since I was white. Or maybe when I was a
kid it simply did not matter, an anonymous victim passing by, their race was
inconsequential. Either way, I kept riding and glanced back to see her
expression. It was as if she felt I deserved it, there was no laughing, or
the thrill of doing something bad, running back a little to get that head
start and the anticipation of the impeding chase. "I'll teach you" was the
expression from her. I had been "corning" and "snowballing" houses and
passing cars when I was a youngster. Maybe it was 25 years of delayed karma?
But the thrill was in the chase, it was fun and we were not out to hurt
anyone, just get a good chase by some of the college students. But I'd never
would have stood my ground out in the open like that. I knew what I was
doing was wrong and had been raised that way. Kids do dumb things and they
grow out of it and learn. But what was I to do? What could I do about this?
Not much. I did not mind the spitting, it doesn't bother me, but the reason
why she spit on me did. It was not simply for fun. It was something else far
    Ian was extremely offended, far more than I was by the incident. He
wanted to go back. I asked him "What for? A 200lb+ man versus a 7 year girl?
Confront, intimidate and take her to her parent's house(if I could even find
it). Call the police on a 7 year old girl there in that neighborhood? She
would have a spit on me a dozen time by then. No, it will only bother me if
I let it bother me. She has some issues and someone's taught her to behave
this way. Kids that young don't act that way on their own. Fun and games is
one thing, this was something else. Whether or not is was racism, I may
never know. She deserves my sympathy, not anger."
    As we discuss the race issue Ian confesses he's Jewish. I confess to
being a Scotsman. "You¹re a Jew?! Ohhh no, I cannot ride with you anymore!".
"You damn Aryan skirt wearing bagpipe player!" The idea that a sudden
knowledge of race could change our friendship or opinions of each other
seemed preposterously silly and absurd to us. "Why can't folks joke about
themselves and get along Wooney? Too much political correctness and
insecurity you think?" "Like the road we are riding on Ian, it's a two way
street. Some choose the wrong direction. Some have an enlighten view of
people. Those people live without the anger in their hearts." We raced down
17th Street. The St. John's Wort was coming up along the lake's edge almost
touching the Spanish moss hanging from the old live oak trees. We saw a
group of riders heading out to the Lake Shore drive so we started spinning
the wheels to catch up.
    We knew these riders, they were from the club college team. Andy is the
strongest of the riders, stands about 6'4" and bit older. He's always egging
the other riders on to race. It's all in good fun to see who can handle the
most pain on a ride. We typically ride two people abreast in larger groups
of four or more when there are two traffic lanes each way. One rides far
past the white line and the other rides on the line on either side depending
on the road's width and conditions.  It's the law to share the road with
     The group heads down HYW 441. A red mini van driver flips us "the bird"
for not getting out his way and inconveniencing him in his rush to get to
"Taco Bell". Andy races up to catch the guy at the next light but the mini
van pulls into the Taco Bell and parks only 300 meters in front of us. This
guy gets out of the van with his wife and Andy is right there with about 20
riders staring at the guy. Not too smart to idly flip the bird at someone
then stop and park only a little ways down the road. Andy explains to him
that it's the law to share the road and giving folks rude hand gestures is
no way to act as a mature adult and it could easily escalate into something
more by doing so. More anonymous rage. More bicycle haters.
    The group came down a hill near a stream and I immediately had a blow
out on my rear tire. "Always my rear tire. What a day, I get spit on,
gnatted, my buddy is telling me to "Die Nazi Scotsman" as he passes me on
the hill(at least it was a joke), we get flipped off (more than one flipped
us off, five maybe six? we lost count, but we only caught up to the mini
Van). Some kids yelled "My Granny can ride faster than you guys" I yelled
back, "You have a hardcore Granny!". I was having a heck of day on the bike.
I thought to myself "And I'm doing this for fun! I must be mentally
unstable." The group went on, I quickly changed the tire and pumped it up
fast and then I spotted a nice plant in the water close by. Some nice
Radican swords growing right there along the water. Some Utricularia inflata
was growing nicely nearby and some, what later turned out to be Ludwigia
acurata, was spreading into a nice ground cover. On the other side of the
ditch was a large stand of Bog Buttons and a large horizon of purple flowers
of the Prickerelweed stretching across the swamp with some Spadderdock
poking their yellow flowers up through the purple. I grabbed a couple of
bunches of the Ludwigia and the Utricularia.
        I had forgotten about my troubles with the Bicycle haters. The
bicycle group I was riding with were now completely out of range.  There was
no possibility to catch up with them. I pedal homeward. I stopped in a local
fish shop to look at some nice fish to stock my aquarium at home that was
empty, well except for too many plants. They had a sale on one species I
liked, Gnathonemus elephas, the "true" elephant nose fish. These were
normally all 20$-30$ each no matter what and are very smart fish with highly
interesting behavior. They had one group of 4 left. Knowing it was their
last group I asked the owner Maddy, who I had often had a nice personal
rapport with, if he wanted to get rid of this last group of odd fish that
obviously no one else would want. They were on sale for 15$ and he asked to
make him an offer. "5$ each?" Maddy was happy with the offer. As he bagged
up the fish he asked how my day was going and what might I be feeding the
fish, I said "Better than the flattened armadillos. I counted 14 today and
as far as the food ?what else? Gnats!"  The shower that evening sure felt

Tom Barr