the Mennonite bakery
I woke up at 5:55 AM. My alarm was set for 6:00 AM. I wanted to get out of the Food Center before the food delivery came. I didn’t want to disappoint the mayor. I wanted to be perfect. I looked outside. Dark clouds and rain. Whatever. I was still on a high from the previous night. I had a full night’s sleep indoors. That in itself was a God send.
The previous evening all we heard about was the bakery by the highway. It was the thing to go to in Brooksville. We had told everyone we were going to check it out in the morning. I would have felt guilty if we had not. We saw Robert, a Morgan Freeman look-a-like, and he once again emphasized we had to check out the bakery. Off we went.
The bakery was incredible. Mennonite women in a cooking frenzy at 6 AM. They were like well oiled machines. I imagined them on a tour, beating the shit out of me in endurance. Their one piece dresses flapping in my face as they easily cycled past me. All of them laughing at me.
Everything was about $1. Incredible. I can still smell the iced cinnamon rolls and cinnamon twist donuts.
We spoke to some of the locals in the bakery. They spoke to us about our trip and expressed concern about us being on bicycles in the weather. They told us about a man in a wagon from Pennsylvania who got hit by a car. One of the three horses that were pulling his wagon got killed. This was about the 5th time I had heard the story. This was a weird way to tell cyclists to be cautious on the road, since we weren’t on a wagon or being pulled by horses.
Some old fat asshole came into the bakery and started complaining to some of the old locals about our bicycles being out on the awning.
“Those bicycles are parked right in front of the door. I had to step out in the dang rain just to go around them,” said the old fat lazy guy.
Our bicycles were out of the way, and it was drizzling at that time. This guy just wanted something to cry about. None of the others hopped onto his crybaby bus because they had warmed up to us. He was alone. A big fat baby. Alone with his cinnamon twists.
I checked my phone. I had a text message from Donna asking if we were OK in the rain. Donna and Gary, a cycling couple, were going to host us while in Kosciusko. Wow. More positive energy. A text expressing concern over our safety. Awesome.
We took off from the bakery. I was on a huge sugar rush. I was feeling great. For the next 12 miles, I was happy. It started to pour, but it was enjoyable. We were surrounded by cat fish farms and horses.
And then it happened. Google maps with walking directions took a huge shit on us. We turned onto a road that was complete mud and rock. Our tires were spinning. Grit was in the gearing. We could not steer straight. Half of our energy was used battling the lack of friction. Potholes everywhere. I was sure at least one of us was going to get a flat. I have to keep positive. At least it was just drizzling.
And then it poured. This wasn’t rain. This was a hell child of a monsoon. I looked at my GPS. 12 more miles. Impossible. 1 mile felt like 10 miles. I imagined the Mennonite women pedaling past me, laughing. We were cursing Google maps out loud. I could hear Eoin behind me cursing. “Bullshit backroads,” he kept saying.
We finally turned onto a semi-paved road. Less than one mile later, we had to turn back onto the same crap. What the hell? Why? Why half a mile of paved road in between mud? How did that make sense? Google maps was playing games with my heart. A huge tease of walking directions. Bullshit backroads.
The final stretch was a hill. A mountain of mud. I had to get off the bike about 10 feet and walk it because I was just spinning. I could not even catch my breath to curse Google maps. Singleton Road. If you ever cycle west of Brooksville, avoid Singleton Road. And don’t use Google maps.
We finally get to the next town. 3 hours to do 30 miles. I was dead. I felt like I had done 50. We wanted to treat ourselves to a nice lunch. I wanted sweet tea. A local recommended Harrington’s. We ride down the road looking for a restaurant and see a building that said ”William Harrington’s Recreation Center”. Sandwiches on a basketball court. We didn’t know what to expect.
We walk up to the sidewalk. The first thing I see are about 10 old black guys by the windows hanging out. Great. I immediately think about the dialogue they’re having inside. “Look at those two scrawny, gay white boys out there. White people are crazy.” I think my assumptions were pretty accurate. We walked in, and they scoped us out. We walked past the pool tables to look at the menu and ordered our food. Everyone was scoping us out. I was scoping out the sweet tea.
In this shot, notice the guy giving me an evil stare. I was trying to pull off a stealth picture. I didn’t want to pull out a flashy techno-boy camera. The flash went off. He wasn’t happy.
We sat down to eat. One by one, the old-timers came over and spoke to us. They had walked out and inspected our bicycles. I felt like I was on exhibit. A bearded fat lady in the circus. A skinny white ugly boy on a bike. A wax statue. They asked us about our trip. We made them laugh, and they slowly warmed up to us. Very positive. A bunch of retired military men shooting the shit in the local soul food restaurant.
Eoin shot a game of pool with a guy that called himself Voc. I think Eoin got taken by a pool shark, who was preying on ugly white kids. Afterwards, Voc walked over to me and said, “What do they call you?” I guess I should have given him a cool name. He had one. His name was Voc. He told me, “My daddy was Italian but don’t tell nobody.” I wasn’t really sure what that meant. I wouldn’t be ashamed of an Italian father.
We headed off to Kosciusko to meet up with Gary and Donna.
an amazing welcome in kosciusko
We ride a good 35 miles on some highways to Kosciuzko. The highway was good to us. Relatively low traffic and gentle hills. No rain. It was a good sign.
A few miles from town I decide to call up Donna. I finally have a signal. As soon as she picks up, she says, “I’m looking straight at ya.” Huh? I was confused.
There she was in her white suburban. She was concerned about us being on one of the busy highways. Man. The positive energy seeped from her veins. You could feel it. An incredible maternal welcome to town. She asked us what we liked for dinner. She was going to cook for us. I peed myself. Lady Luck was a lady tonight. She took off and we continued to her house.
We saw a stupid cow statue on the way to her neighborhood.
When we pulled into her neighborhood, she was waiting at the front of the neighborhood in the car. She followed us to her house. Beautiful home. Beautiful backyard. It was an incredibly warm welcome. Warm showers, washing machines, and beds. Beautiful.
Later that evening, Donna fixed up some incredible shrimp stir fry over the fire pit. Gary offered us some beer. I hadn’t had a beer for a while. It was electrifying. Stupid description. It was good.
During dinner, they told us about all the unique travelers they’ve hosted. All of these cool people with cooler stories than us. One girl was from Germany and she cycled from the Cape of Good Hope, the southernmost tip in South America, to the Pacific northwest. She then drove to Alaska. She did it alone. Without a helmet.
She told us of a 17 year old girl cycling across America with her brother.
Damn. I felt like an ant. I wanted to be that fat bearded lady in Harrington’s again. Look at me. I’m unique. Look at me.
The dinner was amazing. Gary and Donna were amazing people. The warmth and positivity created an aura of goodness around them, and you couldn’t help but be taken aback by it. They were selfless.
Donna and Gary had offered us to stay another night. Donna said there were going to be huge storms the next day. Hurricanes. Monsoons. Earthquakes. She wanted us to stay. We looked on weather.com. Clear skies. A beautiful day.
I awoke to dishes and kitchen noises. I loved it. The sounds of a home. We decided to stay another night. Donna made us sausage, egg, and cheese sandwiches. I need to have “Amazing” and “Incredible” shortcut keys on this keyboard. Amazing. Incredible.
We hung out for the day. Gary was at work and Donna was running around. From the previous day, Eoin’s phone had gotten destroyed by the rain. He rode to AT&T to see if they would give him a free phone, but he failed. He came back, defeated. His frugality threatened his happiness. Donna’s maternal instincts picked up on it instantly, and she went to her room to dig up an old, unused phone. She gave it to him. Amazing. Incredible.
I did some bike maintenance. When Gary got home from work, he helped me out with some cleanup. Tired from work, he did not hesitate to give me a hand with the bike. Amazing. Incredible.
We went to a local BBQ place for dinner. Donna got a huge rack of ribs.
In the back of her mind, I could tell she was unsatisfied. She craved Mexican. I recognized Ashley’s look in her face. Eoin and I were happy to eat some of her ribs.
After dinner, Gary took us by the practice he works at. He gave Eoin a Hepatitis A booster on the house. Selfless, caring, and good people. It was inspiring. They showed us around Kosciuzko. It’s a beautiful little town at night.
That evening, Gary gave us some homemade pie that one of his patients gave him. Everything in the pie was from scratch.
“Give, and it shall be given unto you.”
“It is more blessed to give, than to receive.”
Those two excerpts summarized Gary and Donna.