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Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Forgottern Coast


I arrived in Ochlockonee River SP, known for the white squirrels,  in Sopchoppy, FL at 1:30 PM on Monday November 30, 2015.  I left Cait’s 7 AM and followed 75 to 300 to 19 to 319 to get here. The week with Cait and George and Tommy was great. We went to great restaurants that Cait and George had planned for as well as breweries. We took some great hikes in the mountains of GA. Thanksgiving was glorious, calm, and peaceful. Planning next steps as Cait prepares to give birth in March.
The drive was eventful as I passed a horrendous tracker trailer accident on the opposite side, 75 North. Once I left 75 at 300 I was in rural GA and saw cotton fields ready for harvesting and harvested; cotton gins well stocked with picked cotton; pecan trees surrounding houses and fields of pecan trees at the National Pecan Company; men in orange cleaning the roadways; and rural, rural, rural. I saw a derailed freight train. It was Monday after Thanksgiving and the roads were mine. When I arrived at the SP, the place was empty. I took a site facing south and set camp. I walked around and found the beach on the river, the bathhouse, and the nature trails. I checked in for three nights and collected maps and info about the area, The Big Bend Scenic Byway. Tomorrow I will do a day trip back to the beginning at St Marks and the lighthouse and work my way back to SP. After checking in and getting some wood, I rode the mountain bike on one of the loop trails in the pines and found huge pinecones to start the fire. I came upon a fox and surprised him. Deer crossed my path. Good exercise. I haven’t done much biking lately; just good long walks with Cait, George, and Brady, their Labradoole. We had a beautiful sunset.
When I arrived at Ochlockonee River SP, the temperature was above 80 degrees. I changed out of my shorts and t-shirt into my bathing suit to set up camp. I developed a quick sweat. When the sun fell, I had to put on sweatpants and my long sleeve white bike shirt, just like I would at Assateague. The sky was brilliant with stars and the pinecones I collected, they were twice as large as my pinecones from home, helped make the fire bright and constant.  The moon rose very late and lit up the campsite beautifully.  Before the moon appeared the camp was pitch black. I wore my cashmere to bed and slept well. After breakfast, I set out on my day trip to Bald Point SP to enjoy the Gulf and the scenic roads. I toured around roads, going down dead ends and around communities. Houses are built on stilts to protect them from rising water. The Coastal drive is fine. The drive down Alligator Drive to Alligator Point was fun, beautiful, and isolated. Katrina had an affect here. I roamed on the Coastal Hwy to Catrabelle and turned around. That was enough for today. I stopped at The Pearle Restaurant and had a dozen local Apalachicola oysters, which were fabulously meaty, and the blackened Sheephead fish, a local white fish. What a delicious local meal. I got some more wood and repaired to the Scamp.
After a chopped salad dinner, I built a fire and went to the hammock and enjoyed some good beer as I gazed above at the pinpricks in the fabric of the universe.  So very simple and primitive. That may be the best description of where I am, the “Big Bend” south of Tallahassee on the panhandle of Florida. Every store and fish house I enter is so rustic and primitive. So much character and how relieved the locals seem to be rid of the crowds, a short respite until the snowbirds descend after the holidays. The campers here are from New Brunswick, Canada; Wisconsin; Michigan; Minnesota.
I woke to heavy dew and fog. I was expecting rain. After breakfast and cleanup, I headed out to follow the road around the forest to the beginning of this Coastal Hwy at St Marks Lighthouse. I left camp at 9 and as soon as I turned onto the forest loop road to the lighthouse the heavens opened up. Better to be in the forest than the shore during this deluge. It was tranquil as I listened to classical music on NPR from FSU. It was like being in Montana; nothing but beautiful scenery and no cars. I’m in a tropical locale though. The road to the lighthouse was magical, a road to OZ. The road snakes between Gulf and bay. Water nearly to the road edge at times. Birds, wildlife, primitive landscape all around.
It’s pouring when I get to the lighthouse. I’m alone. I get my felt hat for the rain and my raincoat and walk around the lighthouse. It has a rich history, including a Civil War history. I am in a different world from the one I know. St Marks is an angler’s paradise, like West OC in MD. The rain stopped as I pulled into a roadside shack called Ouzts, Too. I saw raw bar and stone crabs on the Marquee. I got some Stone Crabs for lunch. I got four whole legs with a pair of pliers. This is what I mean by simple and primitive. I got all the meat without a cut on my hands. Still on a mission to find postcards, I was persistent. Postcards are not to be found here. I finally found free ones at the Visitor Center for Wakulla, FL. I absconded with 30 and left them proper remuneration. Instead of cooking dinner this Wednesday evening, I decided to go out. I chose the Hamaknockers local BBQ joint. I’ve passed it so many times, I had to try it. I’m glad I did. The pork and chicken were fabulous. It was dark when I got back to camp at 7PM. I’ve gotta go to the Southern Hemisphere in the our winter. This early darkness is just too unnatural. I had another good evening by the fire.
I woke early and after breakfast, cleaning up, and doing some packing; I got the road bike down and took a 20-mile ride up the road to through the forest. It was like biking in Berlin, no traffic and beautiful. I broke camp, showered and bid adieu to this pleasant campgrounds. I followed the Coastal Hwy 98 to St Joseph Peninsula SP and found site #13 to my liking. It is set way back and I was able to turn the Scamp so the door is facing the water and the back is facing the road. Perfect privacy since I also have privets on each side blocking sites on either side. The water is an estuary that leads to a bay from the Gulf and is filled with waterfowl. To the West is the Gulf and the beach is wide and long. Great walks in store. There is an Outer Banks feel about the place, especially with all the dunes.
The ride was very pretty as I passed through Carrabelle and over a bridge to a very exclusive and dramatic drive right along the Gulf. On the left were camper resorts, resorts, and private summer homes. When I got to Eastport, I went over a long bridge, like seven-mile bridge in the Keys, and came into Apalachicola, a quaint gentrified, an upscale town. I was looking for a brewery in the town, but it was closed and did not open until 4PM. I won’t be driving the thirty miles back. I gotta move on. Lots of road work being done, so I had long delays. Once I turned off to the SP, I noticed a bike path on the side of the road. The path went all the way to the Park. I have found my 24-mile ride. The temperature has dropped about 20 degrees from when I first arrived. Now I’m in long pants and shirt with my hooded sweat shirt and cap.
The weather sure does change rapidly down here. Saturday morning was cloudless and without a strong wind. I got my shorts and t-shirt on and set out on a walk on the beach. The beach is clear from here to the tip, seven miles away, no houses, no roads, no jeeps on the beach. The walk reminds me of North Uist in Scotland, a wide beach bereft of people. I walk this windswept, pelican rich beach for 2 ½ hours before I turn to go back. I could have been on a deserted island for five hours. It wasn’t until I returned to the walkway to the beach did I see a person and she was setting out on a walk of her own. I showered and cleaned up before heading out for the day. I got some propane and headed back to Oyster City Brewing Company in Apalachicola. I found a parking spot right in front and went to the raw bar next door for some lunch. The Hole in the Wall was a very funky place and I got the last seat at the bar. The oysters and seafood Gumbo were excellent and the atmosphere was grand, everyone was talking to each other and with the guys shucking. I spent a goof hour or more in this fine establishment before I went next door to imbibe in some good beer and take more home. They were out of growlers and a young man was disappointed. I gave him one of my Burley Oak growlers, even though he was wearing a hat with that B on it. He didn’t buy it was for the Bronx Bombers. I made my way home through the road construction and had my last trout from my home freezer and a grand fire for my last night.
Sunday was supposed to be small craft warnings, but it wasn’t and after breakfast I took a bike ride before breaking camp and moving on. I ambled down 98 West and stopped at Shipwreck again for a dozen raw oysters and a small gumbo. Fortified I came upon Mexico City, a real development with lots of beachfront and homes. The road became two lanes soon as I approached Tyndall AF Base and then three lanes and at one point four as I passed through Panama City. The place reminded me of the Ft Lauderdale.  As I moved on the road became calmer with two lanes and large snowbird residences along the way. I arrived at Grayton Beach SP at 2:30 and realized I was now in Central Time Zone. The scenery and development really changed once I got to Mexico City. This is different for some reason and doesn’t really live up to the Forgotten Coastline, as it is very developed.
I walked to the beach for the sunset. It was a long walk and cold on the way back. The heater in the Scamp was on when I got home. I dressed appropriately and proceeded with cocktails by the fire as dinner marinated. More found wood allows me these luscious fires at night. At some point I was bit by some fire ants in my left foot. During my sleep I awoke with a terrible itch and took some Benadryl. When I woke in the morning, my foot was swollen and I didn’t feel like doing much of anything. As it happened this was a perfect beach day, light wind and clear skies. The temperature was in the 60’s and climbing. I took up a spot behind my camp and enjoyed the pleasures the Scamp offered while on the beach. I needed wood for the night fire and rushed to collect it at the ranger station. Instead of going home I drove to the sunset beach spot. The sunset was one of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever seen. The sun was a bright blood orange and the only clouds on the fringes of the sun were various shades of purple as the sun descended. I was blown away by the beauty of this sunset that rivals Madeket, Mallory Square, Cooper Harbor, and others. My foot is feeling better as am I as I prepared dinner.
It was a rough night with my foot flaming up again and thoughts of Amanda her her day of mourning. When I wake I feel a bit better, speak with Amanda and take a bike ride to clear my head and enrich my soul. The 20 mile ride takes me through an interesting community along the Gulf on 30A. Another beautiful day in the Panhandle as I head out for Big Lagoon SP and stop along the way to do a laundry.

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