I am sitting in the Okaloosa County Public Library (Fort Walton Beach branch).
It is just after the noon hour, and now is a perfect time to be an air conditioned building.
Driving from Panama City to Fort Walton was a beast of a drive for several reasons.
A) It's Friday.
B) It's tourist season (Missouri, Arkansas, and Alabama plates everywhere).
C) I'm exhausted.
Working a bit backwards here (from where I am now to where I was).
The section from South Destin to my current location was pretty much bumper to bumper. It reminded me of the nightly teen coasts we would take on International Drive. Only this time it was mid-morning. T-shirt shops, tourist traps, hotels, and restaurants abound.
Just after this extremely drawn out section on 98 West -- a beautiful view of crystal water -- where many boats were nestled -- could be seen on either side.
Here, they call it Okaloosa Island.
Absolutely stunning -- that aquamarine color still lingers.
The jaunt from Panama City to South Destin had heavy, but steady traffic on it. I thought about following the coastline, but I was so exhausted that I decided to stay on 98 West rather than taking Highway 30. Not sure how the traffic would have been there?!
[Side note for Charles K. I think I missed where you asked me to go. You mentioned dunes. I remember seeing a sign regarding Dune Allen. If I missed it Charles, my apologies. I will have to see it on my way back. (I did see some dunes though just before entering the Santa Rosa Beach area.)]
My campsite in Perry at a KOA was perfect. I had my tent up by 4 p.m. Moreover, there were hardly any mosquitoes compared to my previous experience. After setting up, I drove to the local grocery store to pick up some food (deli meat, ready-made salad, and fruits).
Following my meal, I took a long shower. Luckily, the KOA restrooms were air-conditioned and quite roomy.
Second mention of air conditioning by the way.
As I settled into the tent for an early night, I found two couchsurfing hosts in Panama City and contacted both via email. Ron sent a message back to me very quickly; I was ecstatic knowing that I would have a place to sleep the following evening. Speaking of sleep, I utilized more material to keep myself warm throughout the KOA evening. Packing light has its disadvantages.
When I awoke the next morning, I saw a text from Ron that read a little something like this: "I have a wave runner, and I love showing the beauty of this place."
Like a little kid, I hurriedly packed because not only did I want to take some pictures of the Apalachicola Bay, I also wanted to go wave running!
The drive from Dixie County through Taylor, Jefferson, Wakulla, Franklin, Gulf and Bay counties was full of greenery and scenery. Through the first few of the counties, I passed by dark tranquil rivers followed by thick forests designated as WMAs (wildlife management areas). The trees there were so perfectly aligned in my rearview mirror that they took on a spooky facade.
Of course, several timber/log haulers passed me along this particular route which made the ride a bit rougher. The physics behind oncoming tractor-trailers definitely works against motorcycles.
Passing through the Ochlockonee Bay and Apalachicola offered some scenic highlights.
View of the Ochlockonee Bay
once you cross over the bridge and head right.
View of some Ochlockonee Bay street food for your dining pleasure. Delicious blue crab remnants ala road.
Apalachicola Bay (tiny piece of it)
I stopped for some oysters and shrimp in Apalachicola at the Owl Cafe.
Both were delicious.
Checking the time, it was nearly 2 p.m.
I gassed up and headed into Panama City.
The drive varied from greenery to military base to weapons disposal areas to water to traffic. Kind of a crazy mix considering I was less than 60-miles away.
When I arrived to Ron's place, it was technically a medical building. He had set up temporary home there. (Long story: I'll let him tell it.)
He was a striking man -- sort of a blonde Rob Lowe throwback. Tall, too. I was able to extract some facts about him: air force fighter pilot turned doctor of osteopathy. He was a man who had the privilege of experiencing several lives within one. At least that was my take on it.
We spoke for a bit before changing into our bathing suits to go wave running. The experience was worth the wait. Although we did not jump in and out of the water, he had his machine going at about 65-mph. (Faster than my motorcycle riding.) He showed me a few of the islands and coves as we searched the water for sea life. We ran into a group of dolphins and watched them for a bit. Finally, we settled in and anchored, so we could have time to play in the water.
At this point, photos should appear, but I chose not to bring my camera.
I considered it; however, I did not want to worry myself over that phone.
Instead, I wanted to have a good time.
We did... sort of.
Then, we tried to head back and could not.
Here's where the digging sand reference comes into play.
The wave runner was stuck. We dug and dug sand to get it out, but could not. We pushed and pulled; we could not get it out. We tied ropes around our waists; we could not get it out. He tried launching it; he could not get it out.
Low tide stranded us.
At this point, it was quite late.
No one could be found.
Call someone? I suppose we could have. Instead, we opted for a different adventure.
We dug more sand by enveloping ourselves within it to stay warm. We used towels over our faces to keep off the mosquitoes. We gazed at the beautiful stars and moon. We saw the sunrise.
Hence, why I am so tired this morning. We talked most of the night away. We shared many stories, and he offered many important lessons.
We arrived back around 6:30 a.m.
I showered, packed, and headed for Pensacola.
With still no place to stay, I close here.
Two more counties to go (Santa Rosa and Escambia) before I exit Florida and enter Alabama.
Until next time, my friend.