Off the Beaten Path Small Town Back Road Trip

apal IMG_9892

It started early. Like 10 minutes away from our front door early.

“Which way are you going?” Him.

“The way I always go.” Me.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. This is how we just went  to Micanopy. This is how I always go to the ashram. Same way.”

“No, I think we went 426.”

“No, we took 426 to the beach.”

“Are you sure?”

And so it goes.

We are trying to be like the wind. But we also have a plan. Sort of. There are suggested towns to travel through, potential places to stop to rest and a point at which we are planning to be in Pennsylvania to stay with one of my cousins that will keep us on track. Maybe.

alachua iphoneWe stop in Alachua to eat lunch. Slightly sleepy and oh so quaint. I’ve been before, and I loved it so I’m happy to be back.

We slip into the historic downtown area to park and walk around. Of particular note is a house I am sure is haunted. Three stories of neglected Victorian gingerbread, sagging wraparound porches and awnings tell the story. Rising above the fish scale tile roof are two ornate brick chimneys. I imagine one in the kitchen where cast iron buckets full of water were heated. There are curtains in thewindows pulled back just far enough for the spirit of inhabitants past to peer through to a life they can no longer live. I creep myself out and look away.

It’s for sale. Because. It’s. Haunted.

As we walk along this historic street I recall a vegetarian café I went to that was run by a lovely Hare Krishna gentleman. I don’t remember the name but I’m thinking someone at the health food store may know. We duck into the store where we find a mostly apathetic clerk surfing the net. I inquire about the restaurant. She searches her memory but comes up short. If she even tried.

Then a super smiley helpful lady appeared.  “Could it be Radikha’s? Across 441?”

“Yes! That’s it!”

Sadly it closed a couple of years ago. We ask for another recommendation. It does’t have to be vegetarian.

After a moment she offers the Hare Krishna temple at 1 PM for a delicious vegetarian lunch for a $5 donation. Or. Walk down the street to Conestoga. We take the walk.

This is the anti-veg option. The menu outside announces pork, beef, potatoes and all sorts of fattening southern fare. We’re on vacation. We go in.

The décor delivers on the promise put forth by the menu: Early American sturdy wood tables with matching chairs; the kind that have the handle in the back. Plastic coated flowered table cloths and a basket of peanuts, in the shells, sit on each table along with the condiments you’d expect. Various pieces of history hang on the walls from farm equipment to ads for products that no longer exist. Attached to the restaurant is an ice cream shop. We’re all in.

We’re here for the “gator choker”  baked potatoes. But they have a special. The Mainstreet Monster hamburger; 48 ounces of beef that will get you a t-shirt and a ride in an ambulance if you eat it all.

We stick with the potatoes, which are totally worth the 2 hour drive.

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From Alachua we return to our back road route. Up 27 we meander through forests on two lane roads with almost no one else. We pass through magical sounding places, my favorite one to say; Sopchoppy. We pick up 98 to go west to Apalachicola, abandoning our plans to go through Tallahassee first. Wanderers have to be flexible and go with their gut. We do. We are not disappointed.

Somewhere between Alachua and our destination for the night we find the Suwanee River. How could we just drive over it without A: Singing the song and B: Stopping to take a closer look. 10 minutes later we are back on the road.

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Rounding Florida’s armpit now we are headed west, but everything looks the same. We know though that the gulf is somewhere on our left and Canada far right. We persevere.

One small curve and suddenly we find ourselves driving along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. It is beautiful. Tiny oyster fishing? catching? hunting? boats that look like they’ve been abandoned, yet have new outboard motors are shoved onto a shore littered with oyster shells. Pelicans are perched on pilings. One each. There are others flying around as if waiting for the music to start again so they might get a post this time.

We travel a long causeway leading to a high bridge. Just over the crest Apalachicola comes into view.

We park in the middle of this pretty little down at around 5:10, just missing the rolling up of sidewalks. We pop into a local gas station to use the facilities and ask about a place to stay. We are told the Gibson, the authentically old looking inn we saw coming in, is extremely expensive but there is a Best Western down the street. Hmmm. We’ll check it out anyway.

apal salem IMG_9900I leave Larry on the wrap around porch with a black cat while he looks through an advertising map.

I fall in love the minute I walk in – to be honest the front porch had me.  Turns out it is totally within our range. “We’ll take it,” I say with a great deal of enthusiasm and a little bit of exhaustion.

I return to the porch. “It’s awesome, it’s totally within our range and we have our choice of three different rooms! All the rooms are different!” I jangle the three keys in front of him for proof.

“There are at least two other hotels closer to the water. We should check those out first.” He replies.

“But I want this one.” Whiney, whiney, whiney.

Before considering other places we explore each room to which I have a key. I pick the one I like best but humor Larry and wander over to the other two places.

One is apparently just one room in a house and no one is at home. The other is right on the water with the most incredible breeze, but it felt like staying in a low rent motel on spring break and it costs more. Back to the black kitty inn.

Wrap around porches stocked with rocking chairs and Adirondak chairs; iron beds, claw foot tubs, antiques in the hallways and in the living room; a short walk to the water and everything else, what’s not to love?

We take the recommendation of the desk clerk and head to the Tap Room for a light dinner after watching the sunset on the river full of orange and gold grasses. In the waning light we explore old buildings that looked closed but were just in various states of disrepair, and still fully functional. We note stores we will have to explore in the morning. This place is something special. Easy and light.

Rocking our dinner off with a glass of wine, we are joined by Salem, the black cat. He is sitting at safe distance and no amount of coaxing or cooing is garnering even a look in our direction. However, once we rise to go in, he is close on our heels. As I open the door he zooms his considerable girth in past my feet. He heads straight for a closet that holds his food.

Once sated he returns to the lobby to be appreciated by the humans. Finally we are allowed to pet him.

Happy to be in a beautiful place with a great vibe we drift into sleep.

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