Grits, White Squirrels and the Ochlockonee River

November 18, Tallahassee to Ochlockonee River State Park

By now, I had been on the road alone for more than a week. The novelty of the trip was wearing off and I was getting into the rhythm of getting up early and pedaling all day. I knew where to find water and which southern gas station delicacies offered the most calories per dollar (Honey Buns!). I wasn’t exactly lonely because people approached me most days to ask about my trip. I also got to stay with a few people and that let me get to know them better than a quick chat about where I was going and where I came from.

I also got used to talking to myself. I think in words, so talking aloud to myself wasn’t a big stretch. I didn’t do it a lot, but sometimes something just needed to be said. I laughed a lot to myself too – because all I did everyday was ride my bicycle and do whatever I wanted. When I realized that, it was hard not to laugh. Also, referring to objects by names made me feel less alone. As you can tell from the name of this website, I’m a pretty bad namer. Most of my conversing was with Blue Bicycle or Asshole Fender, which still managed to rub on my tire occasionally.

People I met along the way liked to ask why I was traveling alone. From the way they said it, I felt like they were expecting a grand answer about my trip being a spiritual journey. Or about how I was trying to find myself. Most people weren’t impressed by my answer – I just couldn’t find anyone to come with me.

Acorns rain from the sky in the South, at least in November. Gene’s house is covered in a thick canopy of oak trees, and I spent the night listening to their nuts fall onto the metal roof. It sounded like rain, but every so often, there was an impact so loud that I had to breath a sigh of relief that there was a roof over my head.

My host in Tallahassee, Gene, worked all night and got home early in the morning. We had planned to go out to breakfast in the morning, but now he was fast asleep and I wasn’t sure if he’d wake up anytime soon.

He napped for an hour or two and then we loaded my bike and gear into his range rover. He was going to drop me off in downtown Tallahassee after breakfast. We ate at Kendall’s Kitchen, a delicious hole in the wall place on the outskirts of town. I filled up on grits, corned beef hash and eggs for five dollars. I paid for the meal and for three of us, Gene, his girlfriend and me, it was $20 bucks including a tip.

Gene at Kendall's kitchen in Tallahassee

I grilled Gene about his polyamorous lifestyle for a while, and then he dropped me off at the Florida Museum of Natural History. Gene was a fantastic host, all-around nice guy, and wildly different from most people I had met so far in the South. After exploring the museum, I rode out of town on the main street.

I got a special demo at the museum.

The Apalachicola National Forest begins at the Southern edge of Tallahassee, so before long I was back on quiet roads in the middle of nowhere. It was much more pleasant than my long ride through the sprawl outside of Gainesville.

In the middle of the afternoon I stopped in a town called Sopchoppy to buy groceries. Sopchoppy is ten or twenty miles from the coast and it feels like a seaside town. It’s the first cute small town I saw along the way. It had grocery stores and small businesses, not just gas stations and convenience stores. It was sunny and warm and I wasn’t far from the Ochlokonee River campground so I bought burrito makings and planned a feast.

The road between Sopchoppy and the Ochlockonee River was freshly paved and framed by a pine forest. I thought I was starting to smell a salty breeze but it may have been wishful thinking. The campground was much further away than I estimated, but there was still an hour of daylight left when I got there. I road past the requisite “share the road with people in golf carts” sign and went to the booth to pay.

State Park campgrounds in Florida are incredibly expensive. I stayed in some that were $25. And there was no way to get around paying because they had gated pay stations that were always manned with park rangers. I would have to stay in less campgrounds if they didn’t get cheaper soon.

The Ochlockonee River looked a lot like the Suwannee – dark water and white sand. There were more palm trees and it was surrounded in grassy wet lands. I walked along some trails and sandy beaches in the State Park. One end of the park had a playground, a dock, and a bunch of canoes for rent. At dusk, white squirrels came out to play in the trees by the playground. I heard some tourists from Kansas talking about the white squirrels. One of them said to the other, “those white squirrels are so pretty, and they know it too.”

Being a proud former pet rat owner, I like rodents more than most people. I thought the white squirrels were scary.

Ocklockonee River State Park

“A word is worth a thousand photos, if it’s the right word.”

Charred log in a tree

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