Florida – Days 16-24: From Bottom to Top (Key West to Tallahassee)

Brittany Swanson   January 13, 2016   Comments Off on Florida – Days 16-24: From Bottom to Top (Key West to Tallahassee)

My sixteenth day in Florida my mom, her friend Janelle, and I headed down on our own mini road trip to see the Florida Keys and visit Miami. Since I wasn’t driving and had the privilege of being a mere passenger on this trip, I took the opportunity to read a book. I chose A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins, one of the books from the growing pile I’ve been accumulating on the road. It’s a good read, very engaging, and though I may be slightly biased, the storyline is pretty good as well. I read the first third of the book in half the drive to the Keys. I kept wanting to take a nap but couldn’t put the book down.

On the drive to the hotel we stopped at the Visitor Center in the Everglades to see about taking a canoe trip with a Park Ranger later in the weekend. Once we’d made the arrangements for the canoe trip we stopped at Robert Is Here, a tropical fruit stand where they have more fresh fruit than I even knew existed. They’re also famous for their milkshakes/smoothies, so of course we each got one. I tried a mamey strawberry coconut milkshake. It was pretty tasty. I had no idea what a mamey was so, as per usual when I do not know something, but wish to, I asked Google. I could go into a deep description of the fruit, but since I had it with other flavors I’m no expert. If you’re really curious about mamey, read this article.

Robert Is Here mamey strawberry coconut milkshake, Florida City, FL.

Robert Is Here mamey strawberry coconut milkshake, Florida City, FL.

When we finally made it to our hotel in Florida City, we were all exhausted. I made a half-hearted attempt to get work done on the blog and then gave up when we stumbled upon Younger on TVLand while flipping through channels on the tv. My mom fell asleep while Janelle and I marathoned about four episodes of the middle of the first season of Younger before I Googled the show and started streaming the Pilot on my laptop. We watched the beginning episodes on my laptop while the ones on tv were in commercial. I became like a well oiled machine, knowing exactly when to pause the computer show and unmute the tv. It was a little ridiculous. The only thing more ridiculous was when the tv marathon ended. The marathon ended just in time to switch the channel and catch the Sherlock: The Abominable Bride special. So we switched channels and watched that for ninety minutes. After that I expected to go to bed, but I really wanted to watch one more episode of Younger. I was exhausted and should have gone to bed, but I just couldn’t help myself. I ended up opening another browser window and had two episodes going at once. I’d start watching the earlier one and then during its commercials watch the next episode. So, one more episode turned into finishing the rest of the first season. Oh, and in case you’re wondering what this show I couldn’t stop watching was about: it’s about a woman in her 40s who poses as a twenty-something to get an internship in publishing after she left the industry to raise her kid. It’s great. And the lead woman’s romantic interest is pretty cute, which doesn’t hurt.

We had plans to leave super early the next morning so we could drive the two hours out to Key West and miss the traffic. Up to that point, I’d been really good about sticking to my exercise routine, so despite going to bed at 2 a.m., I set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. and got up and worked out. Needless to say, I was a little tired that morning. Thankfully, since I wasn’t driving, I got to take a nap and woke up to the beautiful view over the ocean on one of the many bridges between the Keys.

View from a bridge between some Florida Keys.

View from a bridge between some Florida Keys.

After a few quick stops to do some shopping we made it to the Southernmost point of the continental United States in Key West, FL. There was a huge line to take a picture with the marker, so I just took a picture of the marker between people standing next to it. That was good enough for me.

The sun and the sand and a drink in my hand..., Key West, FL.

The sun and the sand and a drink in my hand…, Key West, FL.

It took a little while, but eventually we found a free place to park and walked to the beach. It was surprisingly hot for January 2nd, but then again, I’d never been this far South before, let alone in January, so maybe not. Regardless, it was warm and I was sweaty from walking around, so as soon as we got to the beach I went swimming.

I started 50 States in 50 Weeks on September 13th, 2015. I’m pretty sure the entire time since then I’ve been wanting to go to the beach and go swimming. I tried to go in Maine, but it was already too cold to go swimming. So hooray for the Florida Keys fulfilling my desire to go to the beach and getting to go swimming in January!

After a few hours at the beach it looked like it was going to rain, so we packed up and headed back to the car. We drove around for a bit waiting for Benihana’s to open so we could have sushi for dinner. It was tasty and well worth the wait.

Like I said earlier, we left really early that morning to avoid the traffic down to the Keys. It’s a two-lane road the whole way across the Keys. After dinner, we were not lucky enough to avoid traffic. It was shortly after dark and presumably everyone else who had made the day trip to Key West stopped to eat dinner as well. I swear we left no later than 7, yet we didn’t make it back to the hotel until after 11 and it had only taken two hours to get to Key West that morning. Ridiculous. Again, thankfully I wasn’t driving so I slept for most of the way back to the hotel. Unfortunately, the AC in my mom’s car was out. Let me tell you, even after dark, not having AC while stuck in traffic in the Keys sucks. It was made exponentially worse because it started raining, so we had to had to have the windows up or be rained on. It was so hot in the car with the windows up I kept waking up because it was so stuffy. I’d roll down the window and get wet just to get some fresh air. It made me really glad we’d left so early that morning. I can’t imagine how bad it would’ve been being stuck in traffic without AC during the day. Yikes!

What’s a vacation without getting up early to make sure you get the most out of your day right? Well, that certainly seemed to be our philosophy on this trip. We got up early again so we could make it to Nine Mile Pond in the Everglades to meet our Park Ranger for our guided canoe trip. I certainly woke up quickly because when I lifted my bra off my suitcase where I’d left it the night before, my suitcase swarmed with ants. So. Many. Ants.

My mom didn’t think the ants could have been in my bra without my noticing them since there were so many of them, but regardless of where they came from they were everywhere and I completely lost my head. It was too early for this. Fortunately, Janelle kicked into survival mode and rather than freaking out calmly grabbed some toilet paper and smushed and scooped up the majority of the ants. With the colony reduced from fifty to only a few, I helped smush the remaining survivors despite normally not wanting to kill anything. I guess I draw the line on invasions of my personal space, especially when the critters are too small and too numerous for me to successfully relocate them outside. Sorry my dear ant friends.

We made it to Nine Mile Pond just in time for the canoe trip. Since we were a group of three I had the privilege of sharing a canoe with Ranger Brian. I’m really glad I did. He was an excellent canoe-r. Brian and I had way less issues canoeing together than my mom and I did when we went canoeing earlier. Brian was cool. He was originally from Nevada, but went to school in Missouri, where he majored in Environmental Science and then got a Masters in Biology. He mostly does seasonal work at the National Parks and the previous summer had worked at Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.

Luckily, since Ranger Brian and I were the front of the group, I got to see the alligator that crossed our path and not many other people on the trip did. The trip was beautiful. It was very quiet and peaceful. The mangrove trees were unlike anything I’d ever seen before and it was a really neat experience. So, if you’re ever in the Evergaldes, make sure to take a ranger led canoe trip around Nine Mile Pond. Just be sure to wear sunscreen and bug spray. The bugs were really only bad when we were loading and unloading the canoes, and fortunately the sun stayed hidden until about two-thirds of the way through our trip, but still, it’s always good to be prepared.

View of the mangrove trees on our canoe trip through the Everglades.

View of the mangrove trees on our canoe trip through the Everglades.

After our canoe trip we did a few mini-hikes to see a bit more of the Everglades before we had to head back to the hotel to check out. We did West Lake Trail, Mahogany Hammock, and one of the following three, I just don’t remember which: Royal Palm, Anhinga Trail, or Gumbo Limbo. Each mini-hike took less than ten minutes, but they were a nice way to explore the park further and were rather enjoyable.

I read some more of A Walk Across America on the way to Miami, so when I got there I was ready for a nap. I had every intention of sleeping on top of the covers still full of sunscreen and bugspray, but my mom recommended I take a shower. Little did she know what my being clean would mean. Freshly showered, I put on my pjs. As my former roommate Meghan will tell you, once the pjs are on, all plans are off. I got on the bed at around 2:30 p.m.. Sometime after that I woke up and got under the covers because I was cold and clean, so I could. I woke up again at 8:51 p.m.. Whoops. I knew Mom and Janelle had gone to watch the Vikings v. Packers game somewhere, but as it was nearly 9 p.m. and I was already in my pjs I had no intention of going anywhere. Plus, I didn’t care that much about football, let alone either of those teams. The tv was on Comedy Central so I watched Jeff Dunham’s ventriloquist acts for a while, then I turned the tv off, did some yoga, turned the tv back on, ate some leftovers from earlier, finished A Walk Across America, and went back to bed at like 11.

The next morning my forearms were sore and it took me a minute to realize it was from canoeing the day before. Apparently when Brian told me not to go so fast I switched from using my biceps and triceps to using my forearms to paddle with less power. Silly. Since I hadn’t gone out the night before,  I went for a walk on the beach in Miami. Compared to Key West, it was freezing. It had been like 80° and sunny in Key West and it was 60° and cloudy in Miami. I hadn’t realized it’d be so cold so I wasn’t dressed appropriately and ended my walk not long after starting it.

Chilly morning walk on Miami beach, Miami, FL.

Chilly morning walk on Miami beach, Miami, FL.

After packing up and making a pit stop at Starbucks we headed back toward Orlando. I worked on the blog and wrote Meghan a letter of recommendation. By the time we dropped off Janelle and made it back to my mom’s house I was exhausted once again. I unpacked my bag and went right to bed.

The next two days I worked on the blog and planned out the rest of the trip so I could see when I’d need flights to Alaska and Hawaii. The second night my mom and I went to downtown Sanford and had a beer at this Belgian beer place called Buster’s Bistro. They didn’t have any vegetarian food so we went somewhere else to try to find food. Our second stop was a microbrewery called Wop’s Hops. The only food they had was pretzels, but their beer was really good. I had a Starburst which was a mix of their Blood Orange Beer and Cider and it came with a Starburst! After that second beer we were in desperate need of food, so we drove to Christo’s where I had a calzone bigger than my face. It totally hit the spot. We had both really liked Wop’s Hops, so we went back to try something else. I sampled a few other beers, including their Sweet Potato Ale. The Sweet Potato Ale was good, but not something I wanted a whole glass of. In the end, I decided to stick with the Starburst, though this time the bartender let me pick my color. Huzzah. Pink all the way!

The day before I left my mom’s house I spent the majority of the day thoroughly cleaning out my car (for the first time since I left Arkansas in June 2015…). I emptied everything out of it, went and vacuumed it out, reorganized everything, and then repacked most of it. I got rid of my fan from summer camp and donated a bag of clothes I hadn’t been wearing and had no real intention of wearing. I also figured out what would be staying behind in Minnesota when I finally get there and packed that in the way back, out of the way. Hopefully, once I get to Minnesota I’ll be able to have just enough stuff to throw in one bag. We’ll see.

Once I’d finished packing my mom and I went out with Janelle and her family to Habaneros, a Mexican restaurant. The waiter cracked me up because he kept stumbling over his words and nearly dropped our drinks. He was so apologetic, I couldn’t help but find him charming. After dinner we went back to Janelle’s house and watched that TLC show 90 Day Fiance. I really hate shows like that, because even though normally I wouldn’t care, once I watch one I feel the need to watch another to see the rest of the story. Ugh. We watched two episodes and then I was exhausted and had to go home to go to bed so I’d be well rested for my drive the next day.

The following morning Mom took me to get a few more things for the road and topped off my gas tank. We went to IHOP for a farewell breakfast and then had a teary goodbye before I was on my way to Tallahassee. Along the way I stopped at a Barnes and Noble to use the internet for a bit. Eventually I made it to my host’s house and he asked what I wanted to do for the night. Surprise, surprise, I was tired and didn’t feel like going out. He offered to teach me how to salsa. I immediately jumped at the chance and we danced around his empty living room for a couple hours before calling it a night. It was so much fun.

The following day my host took me to the artsy part of Tallahassee and we wandered around to various shops and art galleries, even though it was raining a little. There was this really cool vintage shop called The Other Side that had some really random stuff, including any size American flag you could imagine. My host was tired so we stopped at Black Dog Cafe for an espresso/hot chocolate. I really appreciated that Black Dog had art on the walls from Pyramid Studios a group that sponsors adults with disabilities. After wandering some more we went to The Crumb Box Gastgarden for lunch; they have a tasty veggie burger. We also stopped by a vintage shop called Wons Upon A Time where my host got a nice sweater and a cool pair of foldable aviators. We also found an herb & tea shop called Athena’s Garden.

Lunch in Tallahassee at The Crumb Box Gastgarden, a former train car...

Lunch in Tallahassee at The Crumb Box Gastgarden, a former train car…

 

After our wanderings in the artsy area we went in search of a lamp for my host’s new and empty apartment. It took a while and a few stops, but eventually, he found what he was looking for. We went back to the apartment and I took a nap. Meanwhile, my host made dinner. When I woke up, we ate dinner and went for a walk around Lake Ella. It was a beautiful; there was Spanish moss on the trees and a fountain in the middle of the lake. Very picturesque.