Holidays down South

New Years Eve in the middle of Alabama. I boiled up our morning oats on a picnic table at our poached campsite - the nature center was closed for the winter, like most other campgrounds in December. Montana rustled around in the tent. I glopped oatmeal into my bowl. A couple drops of rain tap-tapped down. Retreat! Back to the tent. 

We rode out of camp into a drizzle which turned into a downpour. In thirteen miles we hit a gas station outside the town of Clayton. A skinny nervous dog barked at us from a shack by the side of the road.

Montana got a plate of fried chicken and honey biscuits from the hot food case, and we loitered for an hour. Ride 40 more cold miles south and get a room in the town of Ozark, or backtrack east 20 miles to the closer place with cheap hotels? We stared outside at the cold rain.  

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From Athens, we decided to ride south and west to avoid the cold. Obviously the Georgia mountains were going to be colder than the Georgia lowlands. I wanted to escape any chance of having to wear all my layers every day. Montana wanted to wear his special alligator aloha shirt that he bought for this trip. So we said goodbye to John and Stefy and their dogs and started riding south.

The cycling directions on the Gaia GPS app took us out of Athens on a gorgeous red dirt road. Which shortly became a forest. 

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We turned around, backtracked to a more continuous road to the town of Greensboro. It's a cute old place with an old timey goal, a couple cheap motels and some restaurants. Since we're real suckers for indoor comforts when it's cold, we stopped for the night. 

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The next morning we got up early to ride to the town's best-rated breakfast place according to Yelp - the Waffle House. My only experience at Waffle Houses have been on nonstop bus trips with my college track team to and from Florida for our spring break trips. So I didn't have a good impression.  

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But it's actually not bad. On their way out, the couple in the booth behind us grabbed our check. 

"Merry Christmas, y'all. Stay safe."  

Such a nice Christmas gift!  

After staring into our weather apps for a while, we decided to ride a couple miles to the closest KOA. A big rain was coming. Maybe there would be a place to sit inside.  

We set up our tent at an empty site by Lake Oconee - definitely the only tent campers there - and retreated into the clubhouse to read all day and use the WiFi. 

A few people - permanent KOA residents, I think - puttered over to the clubhouse in their golf carts. One guy brought in a turkey wrapped in foil. Another lady dropped off three cakes. An old couple brought in some crock pots. We moved over to the couch to not cramp their party.

An older guy in an Alabama State hat came over to our couch. 

"We're having a little Christmas lunch here in a minute if y'all would like to join us," he said. We filled up plates with turkey and sweet potato pie while the sky opened up outside. 

In the morning, at the Huddle House, another couple picked up our check without saying a word. That's some serious southern hospitality. 

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On Christmas Eve we camped in the woods by a creek shiny with motor oil. Montana built a fire and I made a backcountry feast with real vegetables. (That bottle has olive oil in it, not whiskey. I'd wanted to stock up on wine at the store that morning, but you can't but alcohol before 12:30 in Georgia. Oh well.)

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Our real Christmas lunch was roller dogs from a Circle K, where we learned that you also can't buy booze on Christmas in Georgia. Boo.

We rolled into Barnesville for the night, looking for at least a Chinese restaurant. But nothing was open, not even the Hardee's. So we got cans of Campbell's soup from the Dollar General and went to our fine accommodations at the Sun Inn for a festive Christmas night.

Luckily the lady at the gas station by the hotel  didn't give a damn for the Georgia law and sold us a bottle of three-dollar wine. Then we found the Steelers game on TV and heated up our soup. Christmas was saved! 

We crossed the Chattahoochee River into Alabama, got screamed at by an aggressive driver, and got that country song about the river stuck in our heads for the rest of forever. In Auburn, we stared with our raft-guide-turned-grad-student friend Mark and his dog for a couple of days. He was impressed. 

"Y'all don't smell bad at all!" 

Mark showed us around town and took us mountain biking at Chewacla State Park, where we hardly scratched the surface of the awesome mountain bike trails there. We also didn't get a famous Toomers lemonade because it was too cold.  

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When we left Auburn (war eagle!), the forecast was for sunny skies. Until it wasn't.

Yesterday we left that gas station in Clayton and rode 40 more miles in the cold dismal rain to Ozark, where we spent New Year's Eve at another motel. There was a Mexican place to get dinner, but no margaritas because it was Sunday. I really can't keep up with these blue laws in the South. 

Now we're in another historic cold snap. This seems to happen on every bike tour we take. Coldest winter in southern Arizona, most rain ever in Baja, coldest summer in New Zealand, coldest winter in Alabama.

It's funny to be down South in the cold. All the town's we've ridden through have been quiet and subdued. Nobody's out except a few hunters in the woods and the occasional brave person mowing his lawn in a heavy winter coat. We haven't even seen any wild alligators in the swamps. 

Now we're going to ride to the gulf coast as fast as we can, where it's at least 10 degrees warmer than it is here. This cold front is supposed to break next week, so maybe the gators will come out then.