Key West

In which I find out who really runs the island.

Cock-a-doodle-doo! That’s the first thing I hear Saturday morning. It was really early, reeeally loud, and it sounded nothing like that, but it’s the common spelling for the outlandish sound roosters make at outlandish times of the day.

A little tip for next time I visit Key West – make sure the fan is running in my room before going to bed. There be wild chickens in these here parts, and they crow allll morning. Early morning, mid-morning and noontime – I could still hear them when I hit the road Eastbound at 12.

The edge of America

Day 6 – the Last Day – started way too early. I had not slept well and debated whether to ignore the region’s natural alarm clocks or go out and see what’s going on. Lucky for me, I chose the latter.

It was still pretty dark around 7am, so I chanced a scurry across the street and perched on the edge of the island to watch the sun come up. Seems like it took forever, but eventually the few clouds on the horizon took on the pink, orange and finally yellow light of the bright ball hiding behind them. When the top of the sun peeking above its fluffy mask, I decided it was breakfast time.

Wassup?

The hotel parking lot was occupied by 2 roosters, 2 hens and 2 chicks. Coal black and loitering around the premises like they just didn’t know where else to go, one of the roosters favored me with an ear-splitting ‘Ehr-ah-ruh-rah-RERRRR’ before I fled to the continental breakfast bar and comforted myself with yogurt and toast.

The Florida Keys really offer some unique vegetation. Not only were there coconuts on the palm trees, but there were intriguing plants and trees of other varieties.

Just begging for a tree house

Super cool man-eating star shaped flowers!

Meandered around town for a bit, observing the variety of tiny houses crammed into an island 4 miles long and 2 miles wide. As usual, there were a few places for sale or rent and I fantasized about what it would be like to live here.

If my mom were to move to Key West, this is what her house would look like

It was only 9 or so, but plenty of folks were out and about. Islanders had been nothing but friendly, and this proved true even in the morning. After awhile, it got so I could distinguish the difference between locals and tourists by (among other things) whether they would look me in the eye and say hello. Tourists quickly avert eyes and pretend you don’t exist.

With an hour to kill before the Hemingway House would be open for visitors, I hit the cemetery. I don’t think it’s morbid. I like to read the headstones and think about the people they memorialize, trying to decipher meaning from the words etched there, the years lived, the other people implicated in said etching. The presence or absence of flowers.

Anyway. Here’s another picture.

 

The Hemingway House was interesting – a mansion on 1 square acre of uber-valuable island space, built by a seafaring gent who purposed to engineer a hurricane-proof house. Seems to have worked. When said seafarer died, there was such an influx of false claims to the property, the house stood vacant until Ernest Hemingway picked it up for $8,000 in back taxes.

I’m sure it was a lot of money back then, but probably still not nearly enough. In any case, he lived there with his second wife and 2 boys for quite some time. Plus he had a really nifty writing studio set apart from the main house, which he could walk to via catwalk. He could go right out of his bedroom and across to his studio.

Unfortunately, it did not occur to me to take any pictures.

But I was inspired to actually read one of Hemingway’s books. I liked it.

hot

At 11:30 am, Key West was sweltering and I had a flight out of Miami at 4. So with sadness that my adventure was coming to an end, I resignedly headed back across Route 1 for the Florida mainland.

With 2-3 hours of driving ahead of me, I stopped at Publix for fruit and a sandwich from the beautiful, well-stocked and very busy grocery store. On my way in, a fellow my grandpa’s age greeted me with a smile and a nod, and then, “Hey, did I see you out watching the sunrise this morning?”

It’s an island. Just a matter of time before you start bumping into folks.

Day 6 stats:
Miles: 163.8
Chicken sightings: 5
Hours of sleep lost: Let’s not think about it
Great Expectations: Finished it! Hooray for Pip and Estella.

South from Orlando

In which my car becomes a bug cemetery.

The freeway is a cruel, cruel place for insects and flying creatures of all kinds. Just a glance at my bumper and windshield will give you an idea of the sheer volume of grisly deaths that occur on Florida highways every day.

I was moved to compose a soliloquy on behalf of baby bugs everywhere. If you ask me I will probably sing it for you.

Day 5 started grouchily, as I realized I had overslept and would have to skip some things if I would make it to Key West by nightfall. My neck was so stiff I might have to turn my whole body to check my blind spot shifting lanes. In short, my plans were really putting a cramp on my plan-free adventure.

Physical limitations are a reality of road-tripping, and this trip was testing mine. But the good news is… I’m a Christian! And so I prayed.

Surrendering to life as it is and not as I wish it to be is never easy, but it’s good. Rather than rushing out the door with my grouchy self, I took a few minutes to stretch, got some grub at the La Quinta continental breakfast bar (with waffles!) and spent some time reading the bible and talking to the Lord.

As it happened, my devotional for the day led me to Psalm 127, one of the poems written by ancient Israelites sometime around the tenth or eleventh century BC. It was good then, it’s good now:

Unless the LORD builds the house,
those who build it labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.
It is in vain that you rise up early
and go late to rest,
eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.

Psalm 127:1-3 (www.biblegateway.com)

Isn’t that great? It’s like God said, “Hey Cortney – it is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest. Chill out and enjoy what I’m doing here.” So I said okay.

Things start to get exciting

Much of the morning drive passed uneventfully. I listened to Great Expectations a lot because I had to take the interstate for the sake of time, and 95 is boooring. Somewhere past Miami I stopped to get gas and a salad. When I got back on the road it Stormed with a capital S.

Now, I’m from Northern Virginia, and we are notorious for our extreme nervousness when it comes to precipitation of pretty much any kind. I think Miami is worse.

Suddenly my placid highway of nothing-much-to-pay-attention-to was an obstacle course of hazzard lights, speeding trucks, 15 mph Lincolns, and water from all directions. More praying ensued.

The weather cleared just as I exited at Homestead. I was a little ahead of schedule, so thought I’d swing by the Coral Castle – which according to my GPS was only ten minutes out of my way. But.

Traffic jam!

See that little blue thing near the center of the photo? That’s where I’m trying to go. See all those orange blockade thingies? They appear to be cutting off all possible entrances to the place I’m now spending 20 minutes (with traffic) to see.

I did manage to snap a picture as I inched by. But a few minutes later I was on the Overseas Highway through the keys so I didn’t take it too hard.

Can you see it?

What a beautiful sight! Miles of 2-lane highway surrounded by calm blue waters as you skip from one tiny, quirky island to the next. It was a treat to pass the 2 1/2 hours marveling at this feat of God’s creation and human engineering, right next to each other, even though an obnoxious 18-wheeler rode my tail most of the way.

I got into Key West at 7 on the nose. My hotel was easy to find and I was able to quickly check in and deposit my stuff to go exploring. The front window looked right out at the Gulf of Mexico and I asked the woman at the front desk if she ever got tired of the view. “Never,” she said. “I’ve lived here 9 years, and I’m grateful for it.”

It was hot, but not debilitating. I strolled lazily through Mallory Square, which was full of tourists being entertained by jugglers, snack vendors, musicians, and something to do with fire. There was even a man giving a Bible lecture to an audience of one (no, not that One).

I wanted to see Key West, but the light was fading fast and everywhere I turned I found tourists and touristy things. Stumbling across a tiny shop painted key lime green, I took refuge from the crowds and chatted with the lady selling the keys’ best Key Lime pie.

She’s lived here for 9 months, working for the owner of the pie shop. Most folks come in the shop because they saw it on TV (Bobby Flay’s Throwdown – Bobby won, but apparently he cheated).

It was pitch black and difficult to see beyond the bright lights and noisy crowds of Duval Street, the main drag. I called it a day, purposing to get out early and see the place I’d spent all week getting to. In my room, I flipped on the TV to find that all the channels were agog with the royal wedding. Oh yeah. I guess that was today.

Sunset in Key West

Day 5 stats:
Miles: 409.5
Water ogling: plenty
Near-death experiences: 0 (but I was skeered)
Chapters:finished 42

Next stop… home!

South… west?

In which things don’t go according to plan.

I was trying to stay away from making plans on this trip, because that was kind of the point of the trip itself. Just go – don’t think about the going any more than is absolutely necessary, just get out there and see what you see. But I did want some coffee.

Sourthern NORTH Carolina

Heading east of Havelock, I had visions of a quaint little shop on the boardwalk where I could sit on the beach and sip some liquid refreshment while the seagulls terrorize sea life and small children. I got a little misdirected trying to return to my route (West? Shouldn’t that be East?), so the sun was rather high in the sky by the time I saw signs for Atlantic Beach.

It came out blurry, but the sign says ‘Welcome to Atlantic Beach’

Atlantic Beach is one of the first beach opportunities you come to south of the Outer Banks. It’s a quick bridge crossing from highway 24 (heading West, which is kind of a strange concept, but take a look at the map… North Carolina dips in at that point, so the coast is almost doubling back). It is a tiny place with a tiny boardwalk surrounded by a spa and two or three eateries, none of which served coffee, and none of them open for business even if they had.

I walked the boardwalk – twice – greeted the friendly hangers about, admired the clump of houses hugging the shoreline and drove on.

It was after noon by the time I despaired of my seaside breakfast plans and settled for finding somewhere quick with good coffee. I passed several fast food places before pulling into a McDonald’s and then pulling back out as it was still under construction.

Perhaps I was making too big a deal of this, but prolonged hunger, fatigue, and stiffness were taking all the fun out of this day. I looked to the heavens and pled for mercy. Mercy answered in the form of the Java Bean.

Occupying the end of a strip mall across the street, the flow in and out of happy customers indicated two things: they had good stuff, and they were open. I got an iced coffee to go and took a seat outside. After an hour with my coffee, my journal and a seaworthy breeze, I was feeling adventurous again.

Ocean Isle Beach was my next intended destination, right at the bottom of North Carolina. I was surprised to again find indifferent shops, a few places to eat, and lots of beach houses. These I drove by for awhile, not finding any to be particularly spectacular, but different enough from each other that they were interesting for awhile.

Overcast in the afternoon – I’m noticing a pattern here

I bought a few postcards, managed to track down the lone public bathroom (sans stall doors or TP) and settled on the sand and wrote home to friends.

The beach itself was delightful, brimming with shells  and seaweed with a high dune of sand rimming the tide. Here I sat after taking the necessary walk on the beach. By the time I’d finished writing, it was nearly 5pm and I realized the mail would not go out until tomorrow (Thursday). Oh well.

South Carolina! Here I finally started seeing palm trees. I immediately hit the Myrtle Beach area, and with it miles and miles of off-shore entertainment. This was amusing, in contrast with all the sober stretches of lonely road I was about to traverse.

Thank goodness I filled up on gas! Having passed through Georgetown and then heading toward Charleston, US-17 took me through about 50 miles of quiet, nearly undisturbed country. As dark fell, I found myself to be driving the only car on the road, a realization that both concerned and comforted me.

One thing I figured out as Day 3 was nearing a close – road tripping is more fun in daylight. When you can see what’s happening around you, it’s exciting. When it’s dark, you’re just driving. It gets dull. Thankfully, I had my Great Expectations going by now, and Pip and Estella kept my brain engaged until I could reach my watering hole for the night.

Civilization snuck up on me and I quickly found my exit to 526, which lifted me into the air over large bodies of water which I couldn’t properly make out in the dark. But there were lots of lights below which I assigned to ships and boats and all kinds of watery engineering. Finally I reached my hotel in North Charleston and lugged my suitcase and myself into the Red Roof Inn.

So, so tired.

Day 3 stats:
Miles covered: 300
Coffees consumed: 1
Beaches: 2
Friendly strangers: 4
Chapters: 15
Next stop… REALLY Charleston!

Delights and Disappointments

In which I discover that driving “within sound” of the ocean is pretty much negated by the rush of air you create when you go above, say, 5 miles an hour.

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. What a world the Lord has made. I mean, look:

Mirlo Beach, NC

Multiple bridges, two ferry rides, and a few hundred miles later, I am still so enjoying this tour of the Atlantic coast. A little disappointed that the water is so infrequently visible – even where there are no buildings, sand dunes and trees block much of the view. But then the sudden glimpses of blue that come upon you are all the more exciting.

Plus there are some pretty fantastic bridges.

Day 2 got me into North Carolina pretty quickly, and before I had much time to think about it I was in Kitty Hawk. The weather was perfect; the traffic, nonexistent. It was a blast.

Signs for Roanoke Island lured me away from my main route to pursue some history and education. The notion of this ‘lost colony’ is intriguing, and the bridge from the outer banks to the island was magnificent.

This just doesn’t do justice

The lost colony exhibit was a bit of a drag, unfortunately. Maybe I’m just spoiled living near Washington DC, where we know how to present these things. What I found was an ‘earthen fort’ – basically a man-made sand dune circling a flag. It looked like a toy.

The effect was not enhanced by a sign directing visitors not to climb on the earthen walls because they are ‘fragile’.

Somewhat less than desirable for a fort.

I hunted around for an hour and gave up to google it later. Here’s the gist:

Fort Raleigh logoOn these small wooded grounds lie many stories of families and their struggles that have continued through time, resulting in the creation of a nation and its people. Here, the first infant cries of English colonization in the New World (1584-1590) burst upon the world.
These efforts, sponsored by Sir Walter Raleigh, ended with the disappearance of 116 men, women and children, including two that were born in the New World. The fate of this “lost colony” remains one of the world’s great mysteries.
(National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov)

The long drive through Hatteras was peaceful and mindless. There’s only one road on the island, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost. Civilization is slight and well spaced, but I did get to witness a bunch of people kite surfing off the edge of the island opposite the ocean. I’ve never seen that before.

Welcome to Mirlo Beach?

The clouds rolled over the sun as I continued south and the empty beaches of the Hatteras nature preserve seemed forlorn. I stopped at one of the rare inhabited portions of the island to stretch and look at the water.

Quiet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing how it can be so warm outside and so frigid in the water!

 

I was a little nervous about the ferry, having never done it before. Can you imagine, all these years alive on the earth and never driving onto a ferry boat? Well, that is all behind us.

 

My feet got so swollen from driving!

The ferryman was very friendly and seemed genuinely pleased to see me. That was heartening, and I drove confidently onto the boat behind a Honda Element. There’s something comical about that car.

Five minutes into our voyage the raindrops fell.   The weather flipped back and forth and mixed all the rest of the way, between sun, showers and both. You can kind of see from the picture what a weirdly mixed up sky it was.

But then this happened.

It went from end to end, all across the sky.

Travelogue – The Road Trip Begins

In which the fun begins with surprise tolls and some crazy bridges.

Chesapeake Bay bridge

18 miles over water… do you hear angels?

My plane landed at BWI right on schedule, but due to some thunderstorms the airport had shuffled planes around to different gates. This left us sitting on the ground for nearly an hour, which I didn’t mind nearly as much as my fellow passengers. Probably because I kept falling asleep.

We stumbled off the plane around 1 am, and by then the Red Roof Inn shuttles were not picking up. At this time, I reflected that it would have been nice of them to point this out on their websiteBut I guess I looked helpless enough, because another shuttle driver took pity on me and offered to dropped me off on his way to delivering another passenger.

As we looped around the airport looking for her, I eagerly described my plans for the week. In kindness to my benefactor, I will refrain from posting his response, but basically he found the question of my sanity highly suspect.

The BWI Red Roof Inn is a recently updated accommodation, each room opening to the outdoors. I felt quite safe, even though I was rolling to my room around 2 am.

We bonded.

Monday came at me quicker than was probably healthy, but I was so eager to get going I didn’t care. The very friendly shuttle driver helped me get to the Avis counter, where I was outfitted with a Hyundai Elantra.

I quickly depopulated my suitcase of the 20 or so CDs I had packed, and aimed for the rising sun. The weather was perfect, the traffic nonexistent. What a great day for a road trip!

About 25 miles in to my journey, I came to a toll. Coming out of the toll plaza, I started going up. And up, and up and up. Without warning, I had come to the Chesapeake Bay, which meant I was now crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is a very high bridge with lots and lots of water underneath it.

I yelled.

It was super fun, scary, and awesome. Like a roller coaster, except I was the one driving it. I guess all the excitement was just too much for somebody, because on the way back down, traffic came to a halt behind a stopped vehicle. Eventually a police car stopped traffic in the other lane so we could all get by. I was supremely grateful that this occurred on the lower part of the bridge rather than its highest point.

Most of Maryland passed by uneventfully. Route 13 took me through lots of green and leafy surroundings, punctuated here and there with little bitty towns. It felt quite rural, though I was only an hour or so from the airport. I was making my way through a full audio recording of ‘Great Expectations’, and the Dickensian narrative suited my quiet drive.

My first stopping place was Chincoteague Island in Virginia, which meant I had to leave 13 and hang a left on 175 (which I missed until about 10 miles later, but what are U-turns for?). The drive to the island was the best part of that detour – a fresh, cool breeze off the marsh that lines the two-lane highway.

Come back in the spring!

I’m disappointed to say that Chincoteague did not make much of an impression on me apart from the lovely drive and the quaint little houses of Church Street. But this could be partly attributed to timing.

I had multiple failed attempts to find a place for lunch, since three of the four restaurants I tried were closed. The café is only open for breakfast. J&B’s only works Wednesday to Sunday (this was a Monday). Another place claimed it was ‘closed til spring’.

I only mention this because it means I lost a lot of time driving around looking for food, when I could rather have been exploring the charming little town where people ride bicycles from one end to the other and a lot of the houses look like this:

      

And I thought this was amusing:

…and quite possibly the only one.

I walked around a bit and browsed the shops, but I really didn’t catch Chincoteague at its finest. I have a feeling the number of folks riding bikes will multiply once school lets out. And if you crop your photos just right, the water looks quite inviting.

That’s 175 you see in the background

Then on to Virginia Beach! I’ve been here before, but not like this. Coming down 13 puts you right on the path to an unsettling toll ($12 if you please) and this gem:

One of the more impressive engineering feats on the East Coast is the Chesapeake Bay Bridge/Tunnel, which opened in 1964 at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and was effectively doubled in 1997 by the addition of an extra set of driving lanes. Almost 18 miles long … the structure consists of one high-level bridge, two deep tunnels, four islands, and many miles of raised causeway.

Pretty! Oh, it was so cool.

As the sun was setting I made a quick stop at the beach before heading to Rita’s to meet my friends Tessa and Abigail, who obliged me with a quick catch-up and Rita’s famous Italian ice/frozen custard. The day ended around midnight at Abi’s house.

Virginia Beach

The bank of hotels and resorts against the glow of the setting sun.

Day 1 stats:
Miles covered: 327.5
Thrilling visions encountered: 2
Chapters ‘read’: 9

Next stop… OBX!