We’ve spent the last week completing a loop around central Florida. Florida has been distinctly different from the rest of the south – to paraphrase Jared, the more south you go, the more north you get.
The first difference we noticed was the roads. Even the backroads in central Florida are apparently highways, but oddly, they all have bike lanes. The last time we were here – driving a car between Sarasota and Melbourne – I distinctly recall making fun of them. “Why did they bother to paint a bike lane here? What idiot bikes next to a highway?” Now, of course, that idiot is me, and I’m appreciative, albeit sick of highway smog and noise.
Then we kept running into other folks from the north. Yesterday we stopped at a bar, Walden’s Filling Station. It was a picture-perfect little dive bar. Country music was blasting out on the porch while a group of regulars played cornhole. We ordered some beers – two for drafts $3, served in plastic cups. But when we struck up a conversation with the bartender she was from… upstate New York!
In the deep south, people looked a little disappointed when we unleashed our Yankee accents and said we came here from Brooklyn. In Florida, we’re just as liable to meet another member of the New York diaspora.
Once we escaped the gravitational pull of Orlando, most of our riding has been on rural roads and Route 1. I’ve enjoyed seeing the small businesses dotting the highway, many of which look completely untouched by time, straight out of the ’50s and ’60s. We’ve passed retro motels of all sorts; an ice cream shop shaped like an ice cream cone; and an honest-to-goodness drive-in diner. The highlight was Reptile World: Serpentorium.
We took a break there to admire the reptile collection. The snakes inside were organized by country. I found the number of venomous snakes represented by the USA mildly alarming: they all seem to be native to the areas we’re plan on biking through.
The highlight of the last week has been visiting our college friends, Jared and Bryce, on the coast. We last saw Jared at our wedding (well, technically at the after party), so it felt nicely circular – like we had biked straight out of the wedding and then directly to Florida. We spent two days catching up, having long philosophical conversations, and eating our way through West Melbourne. We started with trivia night and beers at The Broken Barrel Tavern – I contributed nothing but wrong answers, but the team still squeaked into 2nd place. The next day, Jared introduced us to the joy of mofongos at Mi Balconitos, and that night we cooked dinner for all four us us. Cooking was a real treat; it was the first time we’ve actually cooked in a kitchen in months. We ended the evening by playing a few intense rounds of Escape and Magic Maze.
We both felt a bit melancholy after leaving. It really did feel like this part of the trip has come to a close. Today we’ve rejoined the Southern Tier route and we’re feeling more back in our groove. I’ve started to ponder the enormity of crossing the country, but our next real goal is Pensacola: where we have a flight booked home for Thanksgiving!
Edit: I previously stated that we got 3rd place in trivia. Jared actually won our team 2nd place in an epic tiebreaker.