Today we find ourselves in Central Standard Time for the first time in 6 months. It’s hard to believe we’ve spent an entire half year on the East Coast. Today we’ve landed at Grayton Beach, recommended by Mel V…it’s a beautiful spot in the Florida Panhandle. But I have to confess, getting here was tough.
Friday morning, Tim and I woke up in Fort Myers with few plans. We knew 3 things for sure: 1. we needed to get on the move if we were ever going to make it to New Orleans to meet Casey in 2 weeks 2. we wanted to stay warm 3. one of these two goals would have to be sacrificed. It was no contest…so we packed up and headed north. But before we got too far along, we turned West towards Sanibel Island for an unexpected reunion.
Just a few days earlier, Tim had gotten an email from our Jackson friends, Steve and Heather, asking if we were still in Florida. Tim responded yes, that we were in Fort Myers and Steve told him that they were just 10 miles away on Sanibel. It was a great coincidence. We drove over the bridge and spent a fabulous afternoon catching up with Steve, Heather and their incredibly charming 10 month old son Asa.
After getting the news from home and sharing some laughs, we piled back into Frank and drove about halfway up the state to Alafia River State Park. We were no where near a beach which was new for us, but Alafia River has a different draw. It is known as some of the best “mountain” biking in Florida. Tim and I were snootishly skeptical when we started our first ride. “Come on,” we said, “how tough can it be? Florida’s highest point is all of 345 feet above sea level.”
2 hours later when Tim tumbled down a 15 foot hill face first into a 3 foot mucky swamp and I was pushing my bike over my 10th hill, we were humbled. This is without a doubt the most fun (even covered in swamp water) that we’d had on a bike on the entire east coast. From the Gator’s Back to the River Loop, Alafia is fabulous riding. In 24 hours, we did 3 rides and were bumped, bruised and giggling.
It was only Tim’s broken pivot screw that convinced us we needed to leave on Sunday morning. We did a quick Jamis (Tim’s Mountain Bike Creator) search and drove into nearby Tampa. On the way we got another humility check. Just outside of Alafia, we’d stopped into a gas station for some diesel. While we sat by the gas pumps, in drove an enormous, shiny black 6 doored Ford F750. Yes I said 750. I’ve never seen a truck with more attitude. Frank is typically perceived as a pretty large vehicle, but compared to this machine, Frank looked like a Mini Cooper. Out climbed a very large, very fit, very intimidating man. We immediately knew he was famous. After some googling and putting together the clues (the baseball and #52 on the mudflaps helped) we knew we’d seen Jose Contreras, a pitcher for the Philly’s, down on Spring training.
We drove away further humbled.
In Tampa, we stopped at the local Jamis dealer. We had about a 1/2 hour to wait for him to return so Tim pulled out his long board to cruise the streets. This is a very cool town. Within 10 minutes of him riding, 2 separate guys had stopped (one in mid traffic) to tell him about the local skate park to try his skills. We liked this place immediately.
A few hours later we were back on the road heading towards the Florida Panhandle. It was a solid 7 hour drive and we are now officially out of the subtropics. Despite that, we are very glad we’re here. Grayton Beach is charming and we already feel like it’s home. Tonight we celebrate National Margarita Day with our favorite cocktail and look forward to another beautiful day on the beach tomorrow.