The gulf coast of Florida

We’ve had two companions for the last week: the Gulf coast, and State Route 98.

I can’t say enough nice things about the Gulf. The Gulf itself is shallow, so it has beautiful, aqua water, which reminds me of the Caribbean. Someone informed us that the beaches are “sugar sand” – white quartz that squeaks under your bare feet. I had a brief, but perfect, mid-bike-ride nap on one of those beaches.

Our experience with 98 has been more mixed – it’s taken us through every different flavor of Florida Gulf life, from the rural to the urban.

We started with two nights on the Forgotten Coast. I’m not sure if that name is tongue-in-cheek, but it did feel like an area time forgot, with miles of perfect, abandoned roads leading to the sleepy fishing villages of Franklin County. We took our sweet time riding through this stretch, stopping in each little town.

The first and most memorable of these was Carabelle, where we spent 45 minutes shooting the shit with a group of retirees on the docks. I felt like I had lived there for decades. We also took breaks in Apalachicola and Port St. Joe. These towns gave me a glimpse into why people like the slower pace of living down south.

Carabelle also boasts the world’s smallest police station.
My apologies to Wellfleet, but we ate the best oysters I’ve ever had in Apalachicola.

The cute towns disappeared shortly after turning the corner around Saint Joseph Bay. We then had to spend the better part of a day riding through Tyndall Airforce Base. The base was funny on a bicycle – between the ominous signs like “KEEP OUT” and “Ordinance Disposal Field” was the occasional “Share the Road”. The only other entertainment I had for 20 miles was to watch the jets lazily circling above. We stayed in Panama City, which consisted mostly of strip malls catering to the base. Jim, with his fresh buzz cut, accidentally got us a military discount on our dinner.

We escaped Panama City and the route changed again. We swung onto 30A and it was suddenly the unforgotten coast. These communities were wealthy and clearly gearing up for tourist season. Besides the usual beach-town milieu of rental homes with cutesy names, t-shirt shops and cruiser bikes, we passed through some particularly eerie planned communities. While we rolled our eyes at the overpriced, cheesy atmosphere, we did enjoy all the well-appointed public beach access.

Alys Beach consisted only of all-white buildings and ruler-straight palm trees.

Finally, 30A shunted us back onto 98, which suddenly widened and sped up as we entered the suburban sprawl around Pensacola. Another 50 miles of very forgettable riding brought us to the final three-mile bridge into the city, and the end of our detour from the Southern Tier.

This weekend has been spent prepping for our flight to Boston. Yesterday we dropped off our bikes at the shop, and I felt a pang of separation anxiety. I’ve been constantly on, or near, my bike for more than two months now, which made leaving it in the care of strangers disconcerting. Somewhere between dropping a car off at the shop and boarding a beloved pet.

Even though we’re just taking a break, this flight back to Boston seems like the end of a chapter for us. I’m not sure how it will feel to jump home, across the country, in a single day – but I feel good about how much we’ve accomplished so far.

I’ll see you in EST.

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