To Mexico Beach

Submitted by Ben on Thu, 02/10/2005 - 10:30

The ride into Panama City this morning was so easy I felt like I was coasting.  Fresh off the bridge, I saw I convenience store offering free coffee, so I stopped in.  As I was drinking my coffee in the parknig lot, a young man sauntered over and said he had a BikeE similar to mine and a BOB trailer, and he was thinking of doing some touring.  We talked for a while, and I mentioned that I was having trouble planning a route into Tallahassee.

The difficulty is that the Apalachicola National Forest has only one road going through it from west to east, and all the campgrounds are on the north-south roads, and camping in the rough isn't allowed during deer season, which is still on for a few days.  This man strongly recommended that I follow US-98 along the coast (south of the forest) until I'm south of Tallahassee, at which point I'll find a rail trail into town.  In fact, he said if I followed a marked bike route a few blocks away, it would take me past the library (which I was looking for) and to 98, where I'd find a good shoulder to ride on all the way.

I was skeptical, because I've found people's directions to rarely be accurate, but I gave the bike route a shot.  After the library, it led me deep into a residential neighborhood with beautiful live oaks
dripping with Spanish moss.

A word about live oak trees: when I first saw them in southeast Texas, I couldn't believe they were related to oaks because A) they grew all crooked, B) they had small, oval, evergreen leaves instead of big, lobed, deciduous ones, and C) I didn't see any acorns.  But in this neighborhood I finally saw some that looked like oaks.  They seem to be particular favorites of lichens and air plants (like Spanish moss, which also looks nothing like its relatives, namely pineapples).

I found the highway and headed out of town, past the Arizona Chemical Company, which smelled like a paper mill from a distance and was indeed processing truckloads of pine logs, but up close it smelled exactly like Worchestershire sauce.  If I didn't know better, I'd swear that's what they were making.

The highway didn't have much of a shoulder, and it led through Tyndall Air Force Base, which from the road looks like a whole lot of nothing -- noplace to stop and rest.  At one point I crossed the highway to stop on a little sidewalk and reapply sunblock.  Someone thought this behavior was suspicious and called it in, so two military policemen paid me a visit while my hands were full of sunblock.  They asked a lot of questions and ran my driver's license, but they didn't detain me further.

When people ask me where I'm going, I have to give them an intermediate destination because my route is a circle.  All autumn I said "Texas," and all through January I said "Florida."  I noticed an odd thing: people in the South were more impressed to hear I was headed to Florida than that I'd come from Minnesota, even when we were 50 miles from the Florida border.  The same is true within Florida: these MPs couldn't believe I was biking all the way to Tallahassee!  All I can figure is they have no concept of how far Minnesota is.

I rode into Mexico Beach shortly before sunset and made a beeline for the one campground that allows tents.  They gave me a good deal on a site that was mud & gravel, but with a wooden picnic platform.  I set my tent up on the platform although it smelled powerfully of cats.