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Am I crooked letter crooked letter, I?

Bike touring isn’t for everyone. It can be hot and humid, rainy and cold, or any combination of inclement weather conditions. Sometimes the climbs are grueling, but when the terrain actually flattens out, it’s rare that the wind isn’t against you no matter which direction you turn. Camping adds another element of difficulty. Cold showers, no showers, mosquitoes, shady characters hanging around, food-stealing critters, rocky tent sites situated atop Indian burial grounds—the list of tribulations is nigh-endless. Not to mention those bonus challenges out on the road–flat tires, mechanical problems, hunger, dehydration, poor highway surfaces, detours and construction, unsafe motorists, dry counties, and the final indignity—being chased by vicious, rabid dogs dragging chains from their necks like something out of Resident Evil.

That being said, it wasn’t really a surprise when we lost another member of our group shortly after leaving St. Francisville. Since launching into an unexpected berserker rage in El Paso due to the imperfect standards of the hostel, the individual in question had spent more time touring the South in a rental car than cycling with the rest of the crew. So no one was really disappointed when the absence became official and our numbers further dwindled down to 12 from the original 16. 12 is my lucky number, anyway—I was born on 12/12, have always raced under the number 12, and even proudly sport a homemade XII tattoo to ward off any potential bad luck bedeviling my left ankle. If I had to pick any group size for one of these tours, 12 would actually be my preferred number—thus, I hoped that our attrition rate had stabilized. It was beginning to feel a little bit like an episode of America’s Next Top Model… from later on in the cycle, after all of the girls with personality disorders had been eliminated and the house started to feel a bit empty. “Two cyclists stand before me, but I only have one NutriGrain bar left in my hand. The person I do not call must immediately return to the tent, pack up their panniers, and head for home. ..” Or perhaps I’m the only person existing at the center of the Venn Diagram marked “ANTM fan club” and “bike tourists”? Anyway… AND THEN THERE WERE 12!

Eastern Louisiana would have been a complete snoozefest, if not that the sticky, humid air and relentless mosquito attacks made it impossible to sleep at night. Motorists continued behaving horribly, cell signals continued to disappear for days, and my recently-adopted Gambit accent began to lose some of its original luster. Luckily, Mississippi lay just beyond the horizon, and I knew I would feel much more at home there. After all, I too have a lot of repeat letters in my first and last names. So we crossed into Mississippi, but before we could really get a feel for the place, the “Welcome to Alabama” sign greeted our entry to the Gulf Coast recreational area. After nearly a month of Texas and Louisiana, suddenly we were tearing through state borders like a Tyrannosaurus Rex tears through a basket of sleeping kittens. It was at this point that the trip began to feel like an actual vacation! Rest days piled up, and six weeks of maintaining a frugal budget meant that we could afford to kick back a little bit with hotel rooms and restaurant meals. I learned to love the look of momentary confusion registering across a waiter’s face when I reached for the combined check at a fancy seafood diner. “I’m an eccentric oil tycoon,” I offered by way of explanation. “I don’t mind treating. Wait, did you add in the senior discount??”

The Gulf Coast of Alabama was an unexpectedly popular tourist area, with beautiful beaches and a stunning skyline of waterparks, movie theaters, and mini-golf courses. Was this Alabama or heaven? We only had two days to come to a consensus (decision: Alabama), before departing for the only state border that mattered—Florida! Before going on to describe the wonders that greeted us at our final state line, I would like to interject my breathless review of the movie “Star Trek”, which I finally had the chance to see in Gulf Shores: 4 STARS! NO, 10 STARS! A SERIES OF ENTHUSIASTIC THUMBS STABBING UPWARD TOWARDS THE HEAVENS! BETTER THAN “WRATH OF KHAN” AND “FIRST CONTACT” PUT TOGETHER (INTO ONE COHERENT FEATURE)!! EVEN RECOMMENDABLE FOR FIRST-TIMERS, TEDIOUS STAR WARS FANFOLK, AND THE KIND OF PEOPLE WHO AREN’T EMBARASSED TO SAY THINGS LIKE “WELL, UH, I LIKED THE ONE WITH ALL THE WHALES..”!! BEST MOVIE I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE!!!! AGHGHGHGHHHHH!!!!

Ahem. In conclusion, I would like to pump a triumphant fist in the air, take a puff from my inhaler, and conclude this update at the Florida state border. Will the 12 remaining cyclists make it to the sandy Atlantic shores?? Or will a wormhole in the space-time continuum send them spiraling back to San Diego?? Will any be struck down by the sinister forces of swine flu??? It has yet to be determined!