Scenes from a Southern Sojourn

We left home on March 9, two days earlier than planned, restless, ready, and eager to hit the road. The coronavirus pandemic would begin to explode within days. We drove away from the Washington, D.C., region just in time.

The plan was for Sue and I to rendezvous with New York friends Tad and Lea and Michigan friends Bob and Meg in Beaufort, South Carolina, and then spend most of the next two weeks or longer traveling together through the coastal Southeast and Florida and maybe elsewhere. But because of the increasingly worrisome news about the pandemic, Bob and Meg ultimately decided to cancel. The rest of us traveled on.

We kept our distance from people and avoided crowds, which was not hard to do. Our activities mainly involved walking and bicycling on trails and in parks and on beaches that were largely or completely deserted. While the pandemic forced a few changes in our plans and in some ways of traveling, the trip came off mostly as we hoped it would.

Sue and I returned home after 18 days to a very different world than the one we had left. As with everyone else, we don’t know when we’ll be able to travel again. So our warm memories of this trip will have to tide us over for a while.

The Low Country

Florida

Wildlife

David Romanowski, 2020

Winter Dreams: Coasts and Shores

January, the most useless month. I wish I could sleep through it and wake up when the crocuses are finally nosing up through the grass. Here in Bethesda, the foot of snow that fell just over a week ago is mostly gone. The temperature bottomed out at 10 degrees the other night and is rising back into the 50s tomorrow, bringing with it more rain of course. It’s January all right. The midwinter blahs have set in.

Smithsonian museums and national parks are still closed, thanks to our ungovern-ment, so I haven’t been volunteering. In the meantime, I knead dough into rolls that will warm the kitchen and make the house smell good. I make plans to remodel my workbench and to build an armchair from the pieces of an old wooden couch, once it’s warm enough to haul my circular saw outside. I sort through drawers and folders and reorganize stuff, my go-to activity when I’m bored. I check out book after book from the local public libraries. I plan trips, some of which I’ll never take, but I can dream.

On my computer desktop, a full-screen image I’ve taken of a coast or shore over the last dozen years transports me to somewhere else. I have at least 90 images loaded into a slideshow that washes a new view across the screen every few hours. For the sake of something new to do over the past couple of days, I gathered a few of them here. After all, it’s January, a time for dreaming.

The Mid-Atlantic

The Southeast and Florida

The Pacific

David Romanowski, 2019

Postcards from Florida

A Springtime Road (and Cycling) Trip

In mid-March, as winter lost its rather weak grip on the Mid-Atlantic region, I packed up the car and headed south to Florida for a 2½-week trip. (See the route in Florida here.)

New Car, Maiden Voyage

A few weeks before the trip, I bought a brand new, light green, 2017 Subaru Forester. The odometer read 7.2 miles when I picked up the car to drive it home. It still had temporary license plates and less than 300 miles on its tires when I headed south.

The Forester felt like a spaceship compared to our 1997 Honda Accord. The car tracked miles per gallon in real time and got remarkably good gas mileage. Its cruise control reduced my speed as I approached a slower vehicle and increased it as I passed. The Forester serenaded me with satellite radio and mischievously kept turning on my iPhone music app when I wasn’t looking. It cleaned its rear window for me, even when I didn’t ask it to. It warned me of speeding maniacs and scolded me if I strayed toward the edge of my lane. It chimed and beeped and flashed at me; it prodded and nudged and indulged me. Quite often it confused me.

Bike Florida

This year’s Bike Florida tour differed from previous ones. Rather than cycling to two or three overnight locations during the week-long tour, we stayed in only one, St. John’s County Fairgrounds near St. Augustine, and did rides of varying distances and directions from there. This minimized packing and unpacking every day or so, but at the expense of cycling variety. Sections of routes from day to day often covered familiar territory.

I had visited many of the featured highlights—Palatka, St. Augustine, and the nearby Atlantic coast—on Bike Florida a few years ago. But for me, these tours have become less about sightseeing and more about reconnecting with cycling friends I’ve met over the years and making new ones. Thus, I tip my helmet to Tad and Lea from New York, Ed from South Carolina, and Tom and Bob from Michigan for a pleasurable week. Logging lots of miles was not our goal, so each day most of us chose to ride the shortest of the route options. A couple of times we stitched together our own route from the maps and cue sheets. We dawdled and poked along and had a fine time.

The Withlacoochee State Trail

After Bike Florida, I picked up Sue at the Orlando airport and then headed to Inverness in west-central Florida to rendezvous with Tad and Lea and bike the Withlacoochee Trail. This 46-mile rail trail is considered one of Florida’s finest. It is largely shaded and runs through lovely countryside from Citrus Springs through Inverness and Floral City to Trilby. That you’ve probably never heard of any those places is a good indication of just how far off the tourist-beaten track the Withlacoochee is.

The small city of Inverness is a good central location for exploring the trail, and the Central Motel in Inverness stands right beside the trail. Don’t be fooled by the bland name of this modestly priced and well maintained motel. Lots of people know about it. We reserved rooms many months in advance and were glad we did. When we arrived, we were told they had been fully booked since January.

We biked to the north end of the trail one day and about halfway to the south end the next day, which means we still have more to explore on a future trip. We especially enjoyed the lakeside riding in Inverness and the woodsy miles south of town.

Indulgent eating is key to any cycling adventure. The Cinnamon Sticks Restaurant, adjacent to the Central Motel, served a good breakfast, including bacon the way it should be (chewy) and excellent cinnamon buns and twisted cinnamon sticks. The Front Porch Restaurant and Pie Shop near Dunnellon is a locally popular place. Its strawberry pie—no rhubarb, thank you, just juicy in-season strawberries—is superb. In tiny Floral City, at the Ferris Groves store, we refreshed ourselves with milkshakes flavored with fresh strawberries and also indulged in silky bourbon fudge.

More Florida: State Parks, Rocky Shores, Alligators, and More

After the Withlacoochee, as Sue and I meandered around Florida, we revisited favorite spots and explored some new to us. We indulged in Florida Sunshine Cake at the Camelia Court Café in the Harn Museum of Art in Gainesville. We strolled around the Kanapaha Botanical Gardens, a lovely oasis just outside of Gainesville. We stocked up on locally made treats at Whetstone Chocolates of St. Augustine. We gawked at the hundreds of crocodilians and roosting tropical birds at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm. We stayed two nights in a charming rock-walled room in a 1930s motel now called the Palm Coast Villas. We strolled around Princess Place Preserve, a former estate on a river near Palm Coast. A motel desk clerk told us about it; we never would have discovered it on our own.

We also visited a slew of Florida State Parks: Rainbow Springs, O’Leno, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Fort Clinch, and the former estate and rocky coquina shore at Washington Oaks Gardens. State parks are some of our favorite Florida destinations.

Coastal Cycling: Amelia Island and Jekyll Island

On our way home, Sue and I returned to Amelia Island at the northeastern tip of Florida to do more bicycling. We stayed at the conveniently located Hampton Inn in downtown Fernandina Beach. We biked down the long canopy road at Fort Clinch State Park and along the Atlantic shore to the southern end of the island.

The next day, we stopped at Jekyll Island in southern Georgia for more cycling. We biked a flat, mostly off-road route, much of it under a canopy of trees draped with Spanish moss, from the historic Jekyll Island Club Resort to the northern end of the island and back.

In short, we had a typically outstanding Florida spring vacation.

David Romanowski, 2017