Friday, May 17, 2013

White Beach

I climb out of the saddle and wipe the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand. The day started out cool enough, with a nice little northeast wind. My ride south had been brisk and slightly chilled in the early light of dawn and I had the world to myself, it seemed: the birds were singing their asses off and there was the scrabbling of small animals in the undergrowth along the shoulder and the road was empty and all mine. I had planned to do my usual twenty-four mile loop that I call my daydream ride but the morning planet was so new and fresh and enticing that I turned right at my usual left hand turn and rode still further into the forest.

All these roads I use for this quiet loop were gravel or dirt  up until a year or so ago. Then, for a brief and magical break-in period they were pristine blacktop, smooth and serene and like a gift of some kind. I never saw another cyclist except once, but now I see them every time I go that way. Group rides are common and a group passed me this morning. I thought about trying to keep up but quickly abandoned the idea. I am out of shape these days and riding single speed and anyway, today was a long day of saddle time and exploration, not speed.

The morning cool has collapsed into another Florida day of heat and sweat and I shoulder my bicycle and clamber over the huge mound left by the new trench down the middle of White Beach Road.

Open Heart Surgery
What the hell happened here? This little trail was a kind of road through the woods to a place on the river the locals call White Beach. For all I know, the property was at one time owned by someone named White; but we call it White Beach because after you pedal through several hundred yards of woods, you break out into a fantastic place on the Indian River that is a football field-size expanse of glistening white sand, clusters of palm trees and a dark deep woods.

For many years (decades) this has been a bonfire and hell-raising spot. It has been a prime weekend destination for boaters looking for a place to picnic and stretch out on the sand. It is a very private property, too be sure; but that never seemed to matter until seven years ago when a big development company out of Orlando bought the place with plans to erect a nineteen story waterfront condominium tower. They immediately put up a six foot fence around the whole property and tore down the ages-old wooden gate that had long ago become more of a symbol than a barrier, replacing it with a stout steel locking gate and a big stout padlock.

With A Rebel Yell
That fence and that gate suffered all manner of vandalistic humiliation over the years as outraged locals, refusing to accept the loss of what really was a beautiful spot that had been forever wide open, alternately plowed through the chain link with four wheel drive trucks, stole and scrapped the gate for money, cut and used for a bonfire the tree the owners had felled across the road and fought authority with relish and the eternal rebel/cracker energy that makes us who (and what) we are. Meanwhile, the faceless corporation behind this little war was fighting a separate battle with the zoning board over their planned gargantuan project. A nineteen story condominium in an area where the next tallest building would have been one story tall, had there been any other buildings in the area. This was just...awful.

It was a ludicrous struggle but as usual good prevailed over evil, if a jackass multimillion dollar development corporation counts as good and frustrated village vandals should be considered evil. Yeah, the county council approved the plans for this dark tower and then the recession hit and it all became just another crazy Florida story.

It's Mine! I Mean Ours! We Mean...Business!
But for some reason, this corporation was adamant about keeping out the riff-raff and now here am I, crawling over a big pile of sand with my bike on my back, scrambling across the bottom of a four foot deep ditch down the center of the old road, then back up the other side, using one hand to steady the bike and one hand to claw my way to the top of the diggings.

'What the hell,” I muttered (out loud this time). It didn't make much sense. This beach is readily accessible by boat; what would be gained by digging this ugly gash along the old forest road? They must really want to keep us out. But why? Now NOBODY could get in there, at least not by car or truck. For a realtor to show this property (and there is a big For Sale sign out front) they would have to bring prospective buyers in by boat. But then again, this is Florida. Anything goes.

Down to the River to Pray
I lean my bicycle against a handy palmetto and brush off the sand. The day is really warming up. I walk down to the river and wade out to where it is knee deep. The place seems different. It feels different. Across the river I can see Boy Scout Cut, a place where the water rolls pretty quick on a falling tide and it is deep and cool and a place of snook and trout. The Cut leads around a big spoil island to the flats on the backside; many, many square miles of crystal clear water only inches deep and it is a place of magic. It is only inches deep and it takes a boat that can be poled or paddled to get in there and move about. It is holy and there are redfish there and roseate spoonbills and water fowl and fish hawks.

I could stand here in this water all day. I have waded here and fished here; I have come here in my old boat with my old dog when she was a puppy and let her run and learn about fire and beer and shallow water and other dogs and the joy of the shallows and chasing all manner of small fry...this was and will forever be a place of my heart. There have been ashes scattered here. This is the Indian River and this is Old White Beach.

And So...
I turn from the river and (of course) stare for a moment at my bicycle, trusty and solid and ready and waiting. Made of steel and already old when she became mine, we will be together for a long time. There are all too few constants in our lives and we lose everything we cherish sooner or later, or they lose us. But somehow, through luck good or bad (it is hard to know) I have once and for all learned and gained the bonding with something that will not die or leave for another or simply turn away. With a minimum of care and a little love there will always be a bicycle to turn to, a bicycle to ride, a bicycle to get out there on and see the world both inside and out.

The dirty work done by these new owners can stop a four-wheeler, but a man and a bicycle are a different story. I gaze around at the scene of so many good times and then I walk over to my bike. I'm not looking forward to going back over that ditch. Did I mention that I am out of shape? I take a long, wistful look around.


Oh, the Dichotomy of It All
I know I will see it again, coming in by boat. But I know this, also: I make my living working for condo developers. There is a damn good chance I will one day be down here wearing a hardhat and carrying a clipboard and doing my part to take away from my beloved Florida one more Florida place.

It is painful to think about. I long ago gave up trying to reconcile my trade with my love of wild outdoor places. I am a dichotomous sonofabitch but it is a condition that I have learned to ameliorate with a little money earned and a lot of beer and rum (drunk, dranken, partook of?) and long sweaty bicycle rides; here am I : Old Tim Joe, wandering about lost and found and seeking redemption.

I shoulder my bicycle, take a deep breath, and head back over this latest scar on the earth and on my heart. The day is young, even if I am not; there is more to see and my ride home will be mostly into the wind, as usual.

I wouldn't have it any other way.

Whispering Pines Trailer Park and Forgive Us Our Trespasses


  1. Beautiful man, just beautiful

    thank you

  2. Hopefully it will be a while before the old places disappear. It makes me sad to see so many places gone forever un the name of progress. Thanks for sharing this!!!


    1. Dan, development and Florida are synonymous. By this point in my life I thought I would be a boat bum in the Carribean, not a bike bum in Florida. But there it is. Makes for good Blogging, though.


  3. I feel for you. This part of Australia is growing like topsy, but my roots here are shallow and I don't feel the loss as voracious progress spreads. Meanwhile back in the old country my roots harden into an amber resin of negative growth. I am not sure which is most hurtful really.

    1. Hard to say, Dee. For years I went on the road to work, building commercial restaurants. Then I would come home to my somnambulent little village where big change was your favorite bartender getting a new apron. But then the state widened the road to Orlando from a narrow two-lane blacktop to a fast four lane expressway and that was that.


  4. I love your writing. I really do.

  5. TJ,

    I can really sympathize with you. As a supporter of wilderness protection I have the same conflict - my business is architecture, which is largely the opposite of wilderness. And I truly hate to see favorite places disappear in the name of 'progress'.

    I think of Penny Pines, a memorial forest in Pennsylvania that was planted after one of the wars, with kids donating pennies to buy pine seedlings to reforest the clear cut hills. When I discovered it the trees were mature, and it was a beautiful, quiet forest with pine scented air. It was one of the few places that I'd ever seen our local wild orchis growing. Went back that way a couple of years ago - and the whole damn place has been clear cut. Even the bronze dedication plaque is gone. I almost cried.

    But where I'm from is not the hot spot of development. The Steel Valley of Youngstown, Ohio is one of the areas of the Rust Belt that has been in decline for so long that it's made it's own kind of depressing scenery. Parts of the city have so many empty lots from vacant houses being demolished that they're 50% meadow.

    You can drive down a street and notice curb cuts leading up into - nothing. The buildings that were once there have been gone for so long that the driveways are even gone, and the whole lot is now scrub reverting to woods.

    Empty manufacturing buildings have lain dormant for so long that even the roads leading up to them have been abandoned, making huge swaths of empty, inaccessible debris. Access to the river is nearly impossible, as the old infrastructure from the steel mills lines the banks for miles.

    So yeah, over development can suck, destroying great places in the name of profit. But the other side of the calendar page is just as ugly.

    Steve Z

  6. I fully understand, Steve. I have always found those abandoned places to be a little eerie and somehow threatening. I just rode past a two-block stretch in downtown Daytona that has been completely leveled, leaving only vast areas of concrete slab surrounded by chain link. If they would just leave off the fences at least kids on skateboards or dancing hobos might bring a little life and color to the place.

    But litigation being what it is this our Year of the Lawyer 2013, fences, I fear, will be with us from now on.

    Like I am fond of saying, the Apocalypse has already begun.


  7. Hey TJ…that was a pure joy to read…you dun-guud my friend! Makes me think of the old saying we had in the Navy: “you can never go back” (referring to returning to prior duty-stations, hoping/expecting to repeat whatever magic we had there the first time). But time moves forward at an ever increasing peace, and the 'progress' we see on our return means we won't very-often like whatever has changed. We dream about 'what was' I'm afraid.

    That ol' saying seems to fit most any situation though...not just duty-stations. Maybe part of it is how our minds work...we remember mostly the good parts. Mostly.

    1. Thanks, Matt! In my case I think that arrested development plays a part. In my efforts to not grow up I want all my playgrounds to stay the same.


  8. tj,
    Good piece!
    I have lived that double agent life most of my adult life, just not a secret double agent life. Selling sticks for a living and relying on the construction trades prosperity to provide my living is in contrast to a love for unspoiled space on this planet. I have spent many days visiting lumber mill operations plus some trips into the forests of the northwest to see for myself how the forest products industry goes about their business. This was more for my own self-interest than anything a small-time operator like myself could make any difference in the world of millions of board feet produced every year. I just wanted to know that I was in an honest business instead of a big earth rape for a buck scam. I have come away with the knowledge that forest management is a healthy and environmentally sound practice here in North America in spite of the negative public sentiment. Don't fret Steve Z, I am sure that your Penny Pines will be reforested (unless it is being developed for buildings, which is a different thing)and once again be a beautiful space. People forget that a forest ecosystem is a living breathing changing, aging thing. Old growth forests are destined to become new grow forests.
    Your paragraph on your relationship with your bike was some beautiful writing straight from the soul. Crazy how we feel about something inanimate. Yet, it is not really the bike but the feeling it gives us as we pedal with our own energy and power and the feeling of "by god, This is me, just me". I am having reflective days here lately and the bike reinforces feelings that I am ME. A friend from my past died this week. We were very close thirty years ago but as you mentioned things change and move on. It was not so much that I will miss him but the time we shared friendship. I mourn the past time that is, of course, embellished in my own mind.
    I think I'll ride my bike at lunch and think about it some more.

    Well, look at this.....I have totally blog-jacked the Trailer-Park.
    Move along...nothing else to see here.


    By the way, Nice Alison Krauss reference!

  9. I put those references in for you, Jim. And blogjack anytime you feel the earth move. (tee hee)


    1. I only catch the references if they are in my musical wheelhouse. I'm sure you have them that zip right over my head and I miss. I caught it but I was never a Billy Idol fan. He had that lip sneer that only Elvis could do well.