The cycling hurricane man

 In FrontBlog

His name is Mark Mayhew, we met through a cyclist community and he promised me a place to stay for the night as I was passing Panama City in North West Florida. The day started out like all other days, cold, rainy and full of mosquitos. I haven’t had the best of luck with the weather since I left Orlando, little did I know that it was all about to change to the better.

In October last year hurricane Michael swept in at Mexico Beach, it was a class 5 storm and most people had evacuated but the devastation was total. As I four months later cycle along the streets, among houses shredded to pieces and trees broken in half for over 70 kilometers I didn’t feel as bad as I first thought I would. I had met people who told me about the damages before I entered the “war zone” but as I got there, instead of noticing the destruction I focused on all the people helping each other out. Yellow-vested people were still digging through piles of rubbish and the community had opened a hair dresser that was free of charge to help out as much as possible.

Among all the houses I spotted a painted wall, trying to keep morale up.

When I meet Mark at the public library in Panama City he greets me with a big smile, invites me in and starts telling the story about how his life changed after hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans back in 2005. At the time he didn’t really know what he wanted to do the coming years of his life so when the hurricane hit he realized that he could be of help rebuilding the city.

After the city had gotten back on its feet he started to look around as soon as there was a hurricane on the rise, he had nothing but his phone, laptop, bicycle and sleeping bag. When the news reported on the areas getting hit he went online on both Facebook and Twitter, creating communities for people in need. Keep in mind, this was back in 2008. He travelled along the gulf coast on his bicycle, seeking up the hurricane victims and as he helped the community out via starting groups on social media he made a buck here and there cleaning up people’s gardens and houses in return for food and accommodation.

This way of living, helping others, gave him a new meaning to his life and he has now done it for 14 years. He’s in his late 50’s but has no plan on stopping anytime soon. When he finds someone he can help he can usually sleep on their property, otherwise he sleeps in the streets. “A hurricane disaster zone is great for homeless people; they’re putting up all these containers everywhere where you can sleep in between without getting seen.”

He continues; “All of the people who used to live in these nice houses, all of a sudden they find themselves on the street, especially if they didn’t have the right insurance, and I don’t really wanna see them go down the path I did, the road where help is absent.” As long as his legs can push his bicycle along the gulf coast he will continue helping out where ever a hurricane hits.

Mark contacted Paula, a lady who got hit by the hurricane before I arrived in Panama City and asked if we could stay in her yard in return for some hurricane clean up work. I put up my tent on her lawn and got to know yet another wonderful person. She’s retired, had half her roof coming off in the storm and now store all her old magazines and advertisements she sells online in her living room. It’s messy but the four dogs together with her positive spirit keep up morale.

We go through her website, keyword: “Sweden”. An article from 1963 pops up. “Hey, I got something here” she says and starts rumbling through one of her boxes. A National Geographic magazine tells the story of “Sweden, Quiet Workshop for the World”. As I turn the pages of the untouched old magazine my eyes slowly sheds a tear, it tells a story of a country that I’ve only heard my grand mother talk about, a great country, a country where people cared for each other in another way than now, a country were people stood strong together. A country were its citizens supported the community like the roots support the living tree.

Before I leave Mark to the adventures of his life I do an interview with him by the beach and ask him what makes him get up in the morning, he answers while laughing; The cops man! Haha, I have to get out of most places before the sun goes up so they won’t hassle me. Then he turns more philosophical; I just love helping people and if there is something this world needs it’s a bit of help.

The destruction from hurricane Michael can be seen everywhere going through North West Florida but I don’t want to focus on the fallen and broken stories, I want to focus on the stories that lift us up, the stories that fight back, the stories that really matter.

The white, so-called, sugar sand blew away from many of the beaches during the storm, leaving pine trees like the one in the picture vulnerable for next hurricane season, but they keep fighting, they keep standing tall, they survive.




More on Mark here.
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