I take a little stroll in the morning, check out the actual ironworks, and the houses in the daylight, then it’s up the hill and outta here to find phone reception and coffee.
A bad Yelp day. First there was literally nothing except gas station coffee for the first fifty miles of my day, The town of Prattsville had two promising places – one turned out to be an empty storefront, the other had some redneck sign on the door to the effect that no NFL games would be shown because of protesting players. Eff that place. That’s kinda too bad because the town itself was interesting. It was like a New England mill town – the river runs through downtown. There is a very old dam and large, derelict four story mill buildings across the river. Other than that, the people had that creepy Alabama vibe that I just do not dig.
Take two: Yelp says a Waffle House near the interstate has wifi. I’m stoked by this. Going to a Waffle House is something I need to do in this part of the country. I did, and it was everything I hoped it would be, but the wifi was a lie. The big black lady manning the register was singing soul standards when she wasn’t busy. She had a great voice!
So now I’m fed and caffeinated and heading for the ACE campground I identified for tonight. My road, US 82, took me through the middle of a town called Union Springs. That struck me as notable – a town called Union in the heart of the Confederacy. Pretty soon, I got the idea. It appeared to be entirely black. I don’t know that for sure, but I didn’t see a single white person not driving a car in the whole town.
I pinned my hopes for wifi and a civilized meal on the town of Eufaula, on the Alabama side of yet another big ole reservoir, this time on the Chattahoochee River, which is the border between Alabama and Georgia. I’m sure everybody down here knows that, but I didn’t. Anyway Eufaula wasn’t the little burg I thought it would be, it was actually a pretty large, genteel, faded elegance kind of place that was probably quite something back in the day. It was a major cotton shipping hub, and the Civil War ended it’s prosperity along with everybody else’s prosperity in Alabama.
It looked like a cool town – big houses, wide streets. I decided to go for a place called Cajun Corner because it had wifi. It wasn’t anything like I thought it would be, in a bad way. When the lady seating me said they didn’t really have wifi despite the Yelp listing, my limit of Alabama bullshit was reached. I thanked her and left. Got some stink-eye in return.
There was a cool-looking bar with sidewalk tables that I would’ve gone to if I wasn’t already pissed off at the whole town, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I hit the road, crossed the lake and turned south to find tonight’s Army Corp campground, on the Georgia side of the lake.
A well laid out campground on the Georgia side of Lake Eufaula. All manner of water pursuits, many from the edge of your campsite.tonight:
The water at the swimming beach was kind of gross. Not the water really, but a thick layer of slime on the bottom. I ended up treading water the whole time because it was disgusting to stand on. But there are showers!
My site was really far from the bathroom for our loop. The bathroom for the next loop was visible across the inlet and closer, a mere 200 yards instead of 1/3 mile.
This already feels like northern Florida. The sandy soil … the alligator warnings … In the waning daylight I whip out the bike and explore the campground. Destination is the swimming hole in the farthest loop. The swimming hole was kind of gross. The bottom was coated with a deep layer of slimy stuff. However the water was insanely warm and pleasant so I floated around happily for fifteen minutes trying not to touch the slimy stuff any more than I had to. I’ve been hating the humidity, but the upside of being in the South is that you can hop in a lake in October without being an iron man. The sunset was spectacular from the water and through the pines riding back.
It was no-moon dark by the time I pedaled back to the campsite. Stayed just long enough to organize myself, then back on the bike to ride to the shower to wash off the slimy stuff. It is as I said, a very dark night here under the trees, and the bathhouse is pretty far away. So I have a sketchy judgement good adventure of riding my little bike in the pitch darkness between streetlights. Mostly I could track the faint double yellow line that the ACE painted on their very smooth and well-maintained asphalt road. But there there a couple of stretches where I coasted along slowly on faith alone – and made it. On the way back I figured out that I could indeed hold the flashlight and pedal at the same time so that ride was a little less fraught. For whatever reason I get a real thrill out of following a path that I can discern only by the smallest glow in the darkness. It’s no doubt safer to experience that on foot.
Getting the bathroom was no drama at all in the morning! It’s getting hot really quickly today. This has the useful effect of getting me off my butt and on my way.
For the simple acts of finding coffee or a meal, I find the South harder to deal with than the Great Plains, or the Great Basin for that matter. Up north, when there was 80 miles between towns, there would be some kind of diner in every town. The last two days here in Alabama and Georgia I’ve had to drive an hour and a half just to find a coffee shop … which was a Waffle House yesterday and a Dunkin Donuts today.
I drove through a stretch of what I think were pecan orchards, then lots and lots and lots of cotton fields. Around the Georgia – Florida border the Spanish moss started. It feels like the real Deep South now.
A sleepy little campground in a sleepy little park. Pleasant and quiet. The Suwanee River is pretty, it would be fun to kayak it.
The bathroom/laundry had a little book exchange!tonight:
I got there late, after 7, and there was no one at the gate. I found the camp host, and he said pay on the way out tomorrow. There was no one at the gate in the morning either.
Got here very late, 7:20, pretty much dark. This is very much against my road trip policy, but I blame the fact that I need to be somewhere on a certain date … which is also something I like to avoid on road trips. So it’s definitely not how I like to do things. It looks like a nice place. But I didn’t get here early enough to enjoy it, so shame on me. Take my shower, do a little blogging, and go to bed.
I’m pretty much on task today, I didn’t even stop to look at the no doubt extremely scenic Suwannee River on the way out. It’s going to be a long day.
Breakfast in the Dixie Cafe in Lake City, fifteen miles from last night’s campground. Thankfully, it was not too Dixie-ish, just a regular old diner. I am in the Florida Zone now. Everybody at last night’s campground was old, everybody at the diner is old. Heck, I’m old, so I fit right in. The wifi was good and they serve breakfast all day, so I’m not complaining.. After that, today was a preview of what John Freeman’s personal hell looks like – driving on busy interstates forever. A few miles on I-10, then right on I-75 for ever and ever and ever, until time to veer west on I-275 towards Tampa-St Pete. Then the last 30 miles on surface streets, over the top of the bay past the wonderfully named Safety Harbor, and I’m there. 30 miles doesn’t sound like much, but it’s rush hour, and Florida traffic planners aren’t any better than Florida drivers. Traffic would move for maybe 2 miles, then my 6-lane boulevard would intersect another 6-lane boulevard and the rush hour traffic would max out every piece of the traffic light cycle, including the killer left turn parts of the cycle. Some were literally long enough to check your email. God I hate urban Florida.
I guess now is the time I drop the bomb. My plan was to come down here and visit my sister, who’s been in a managed care facility for a while. Well, her friend Julie called me last week to say that she up and died last Tuesday. I knew she wasn’t doing well, so it was a shock, but not unexpected. I was six days away from here when I got the word, so I came on down anyway to visit with Julie and get a box of her treasures – her doctoral thesis and such. So here I am at Mease Manor Managed Care. Nice place! Getting here was stressful, being here is emotional.
When I arrived Julie was at dinner. I joined her and her friend Nancy, and even got great meal as Julie’s guest. Sauteed trout with artichokes and olives+scalloped potatoes+asparagus, key lime pie for dessert. Like I say, a really nice place. I mentioned sleeping at the Cracker Barrel tonight and Nancy said “why not sleep here?”. I replied “ha,ha”.
We wnet back to her room and reminisced for a coupla hours and I took away a good sized box of treasures that I am very happy to have, although fifty year old postgraduate bound theses are very heavy objects.
I was pretty beat by the time I left at 9:30. On the way out I asked my new friend Mary at the desk as diffidently as I could about sleeping in the parking lot, and boom! she hooked me up. I keep learning this lesson that you should go ahead and ask rather than assuming the negative. Right then it was just a lucky break for the night, but looking back it seems super cool in some strange way that I got to sleep at the place where Milly was for her last few years.
In terms of peace and quiet I could’ve stayed in the Mease parking lot a lot longer, but the unshaded Florida sun is very hot, so I hustled out of there to a downtown Dunedin coffee place about 9 am … the crack of dawn to me! I quite enjoyed the local color at the coffee place. A couple of beach dudes, a medical tech who want no conversation or eye contact, just her quadruple shot to start the work day. And of course the random dudes that always come in and hang around the cute barrista for a while just because, telling stories of how drunk everyone was last night. In other words, it had a real surfer dude beach vibe, even though the water here is a bay. The actual surf is a bridge and a few endless street lights away.
My appointment with the Cremation Society is at noon, and it’s still only 10:15! Amazing how long the day is if you get up in the morning! I re-stock the necessities (beer, milk…) at the nearby Publix market and get to my appointment five minutes early. It’s a real short meeting. She just needs the signature of the legal next of kin on a few things. She had emailed the cremation paper to me, but it required notarization, and I hate tracking down notaries. So I decided that as long as I’m coming down here anyway, I’d just hop over and sign them in person.I stopped at the local Social Security office for a useless but brief inquiry, now I’m ready to get the heck out of here. The nearby north-south boulevard – N Belcher Road – is perfect for my needs, namely get me headed north but not on US-19. Unlike rush hour traffic, midday traffic is mellow. I eventually cut over to Alt 19, the coast route. It was fun. I ended up having lunch in Tarpon Springs at Rusty Bellies, the busiest place in town it seemed, despite the weird name. I had an oyster po’ boy and it was great! I liked Tarpon Springs very much except for the tourists (i.e. me). The restaurants and the whole tourist vibe are pushing Mediterranean culture (sponge divers!), and it really does seem to be Greek.
Not long after that the the fun stopped. Alt 19 merges with real 19, and real 19 is a real nightmare. Literally 60 miles of 8 lane road with a stoplight every one or two miles. Florida drivers suck so hard. It is very frustrating driving for all of us, but they’re cutting in and out of lanes like LeMans drivers.
Aquatic recreation paradise. swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, scubaing. You can swim or snorkel in the mouth of the spring
Checkout is 3 pm.tonight:
I thank the camping gods for there being a place available for me at this blessed place at 5 pm on a Friday.
My spot was near the path to the picnic area and spring, overlooking the Catfish Hole.
The Hole was quite busy with scuba-ers on Saturday morning
Man what a cool place. When I got here there was no line, drive right up to the gatehouse, but in the 6-7 minutes it took to register, three big rigs had lined up. I’m quite sure the place was full after that, so getting a spot here for little ole unreserved me was a matter of ten minutes either way. Thank you Universe!
Interestingly Manatee Springs flows into the Suwanee River, where I camped much farther north a few days ago. There is a cool boardwalk here that goes along the springs creek to a boat landing where the creek meets the Suwanee. I wandered down it in my flip flops straight from swimming, so no pics. I think this is where the excursions take off from when it’s manatee watching season.
So busy, such a happy place on a Saturday afternoon! My campsite was among the last available (I think) because the trail from the campground to the springs comes out in my backyard. There’s folks coming and going all the time. You can hear the sounds of the picnickers and swimmers having a great Saturday.
Catfish Hole (Catfish Hotel? maps differ…) looks like just another scummy swampland pond, but in fact it’s a sinkhole that is quite busy with scuba-ers today. Apparently there are hundreds of feet of underground caves, and you can get to the actual spring mouth if you’re a good enough scuba-er.
I berate myself for not having enough pep to break out my little kayak and/or my fins and snorkel, because there will never be a more user-friendly place for me to deploy them, but here it is 2o minutes from checkout time. I didn’t know it would be this perfect….