I traveled coast to coast today – by RV – in about six hours. OK, it’s not the usual transcontinental trip, but I crossed many different ecosystems and still arrived in time to cook dinner. I drove from the St. Joseph Peninsula State Park on the Gulf of Mexico to Gamble Rogers State Recreational Area just north of Daytona on the Atlantic. Along the way, I passed through a widely varied assortment of biospheres before ending up back on the beach.
St. Joseph’s Peninsula is on the west side of the Apalachicola Bay section of coast, about halfway out the Florida panhandle. I got up before dawn, had some coffee as the sky brightened, and hit the park’s dump on the way out, surprising a deer – a big doe, which was strange. Most of the ones on these offshore islands and peninsulas are fairly small. She was just standing there about 20 feet away, watching me warily while she kept on browsing. It was a nice moment to savor the wildness out here on the cape. I knew if I went for the camera she’d melt into the scrub.
As I headed east along the water I crossed the entire Apalachicola Bay stretch, approximately 50 miles of shoreline hugging a Federal two-lane highway. The old highway system had even numbers going east and west, starting with US 2 hugging the Canadian border and ending up with my road, highway 98.
Apalachicola Bay is fed by the Apalachicola River, which has the misfortune to go up along the Alabama-Georgia line, changing its name to the Chattahoochee River, and eventually going through the metro Atlanta area to its source up in the Appalachians, so there’s not as much water coming down into the bay as there used to be. It’s increasingly siphoned off for agriculture and other uses, which increases the salinity of the bay and ruins the oyster harvest. Back when water was the only way to move anything heavy, the farmers all over the coastal plain would load their cotton onto barges, come down the river, sell their crop to the sailing vessels waiting to take it to the New England mills, and head home with some oysters and a hangover.
East of Carrabelle I headed inland, climbing up onto the limestone formation known as karst and honeycombed with underground water passages. Back in another lifetime, northeast Florida was my territory as I administered mental health programs in prisons, and some of these counties were so sparsely populated the prison was the county’s largest employer. In Lafayette County, the county seat of Mayo is maybe a dozen blocks long, and there was real concern that if the county’s prisoners were able to register to vote, they could elect their own county commission. There were only 1,200 inmates, but looking at recent vote totals there they could have done it.
Further east I start passing springs – Troy Springs, Convict Springs, and the granddaddy of them all, Ichetucknee Springs. These are where the underground water that has been traveling south for hundreds of miles through the limestone comes to the surface, and the blue, cold water joins the warm, tannin-stained surface waters. Ichetucknee has a spring run of a few miles, grandly named the Ichetucknee River, and the cold, clear water was a welcome respite after long hot summer days in my youth and young adulthood. It’s 72 degrees year round. Grab an inner tube, an appropriate beverage, and float down the spring run.
Once I got past Gainesville situated in the middle if the peninsula I crossed the sandhills, old shelf beaches eroded out as Florida rose from the ocean, It’s dry, sandy and snaky – mostly pines and scrub oaks. As I approach the Atlantic, it’s back into cypress swampland and the St. Johns river basin.
Soon I start seeing all the bikers – Bike Week at Daytona is coming up, and they’re already swarming the place. As I approach Gamble Rogers on A1A the coastal highway there’s a traffic tie-up – someone has hit a motorcycle with their car, an inevitable consequence of this many motorcycles being thrown into the already crowded snowbird beach scene. I head back north, cross the intracoastal waterway and head down the inland side of it to sneak up on Gamble Rogers from the south. A few scary patches with 8’6″ clearance warnings because of the live oak branches sweeping over the road, but I navigate cautiously and use as much of the road and shoulder as I have to so that me and my solar panels come through in one piece.
Pulling in to the camping area, there’s a Roadtrek next door! Looks like a mid 1990s 200 Popular. I’ll go over and say hi after I set up the dishes. Tonight I will get a good night’s sleep listening to the surf sounds coming in the open back doors, which is what I heard last night over on the Gulf. Life is good.