Two Weeks in Texas

 
 
Above:  Having visited the last three extreme geographic compass points of the U.S., I left Long Key State Park on a blustery morning.  With my mission now complete, I drove 1443 miles in two days and reached Austin, Texas.

The wind picked up in the evening and by the time I rolled out of my truck in the morning, at Long Key State Park in Florida, it was whipping through my campsite at a 20-knot clip.  It had been windy all month – November being the windiest month in Florida, apparently.  I figured this was an omen, telling me it was a good time to head home.  

The only problem was that “home” was in the opposite corner of the country:  in Portland, Oregon, which was 3,350 miles away according to Google Map’s shortest route, through Wyoming.  From studying Google Maps, I figured that this drive, from the Florida Keys to Portland, is about the longest point-to-point drive you can do in America.  The only longer drive would be from the Florida Keys to northwest Washington around Bellingham – which is, ironically, where I was planning to spend Christmas, at my sister's house.   But instead of taking the direct route through Wyoming, which can be nasty in late November, I decided instead to take the Southern Route across the U.S. to Los Angeles and then up the west coast.  It was 400 miles longer but would be an easier, and warmer, route.

The morning was sunny and warm, not bad for late November, I figured.  After a quick breakfast, I packed up and drove out of my campsite, then checked out with a ranger at the park headquarters.  I had a camping reservation for a few more nights at Long Key, but I told the ranger that I wanted to cancel it.  He seemed a bit hurt and apologetic.  “Gee, I hope you enjoyed your stay here,” he said.  “Oh, it’s a wonderful park,” I reassured him.  “I just need to get home.”  I appreciated his concern and he felt better.  That was nice of him, I thought, being concerned about my stay.

Shortly afterwards I was back on U.S. 1 once again, this time heading out of the Keys for good.  My immediate destination was my friend Joan’s house in Austin, Texas, which was a two-days’ drive from here.  With all 16 extreme compass points now under my belt – along with several Publix fried chickens – I just wanted to get home to Portland, so I wasn’t planning to stop anywhere along the way between here and Austin. 

Well, just one stop.  I pulled over in Key Largo an hour later to see the African Queen.  Yes, that African Queen.  As you know, I'm kind of a Humphrey Bogart fan.  Back at Bahia Honda a week earlier I’d watched his 1944 classic,  “To Have and Have Not” and the previous evening at Long Key, I watched “Key Largo."  During my 1995 trip around America, I stumbled across the actual boat he used in the 1951 movie, “African Queen” when I drove through Key Largo.  I had done a double-take back in 1995 because I couldn’t believe it was the actual boat, but sure enough, it was.  And sure enough, it was still here.  Well, it was supposed to be here.  You can charter the African Queen and unfortunately someone had done that before I stopped by, so I didn’t get to see it after all.  But maybe next time.

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Above: On my last morning in the Florida keys, just before heading back to Oregon.  My work here was done.  (0:55)
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Back on the highway, I crossed over the last bridge in the Keys a half-hour later and reached the Florida mainland, then I headed west on U.S. 41 across the Everglades on the so-called “Tamiami Trail” (as in Tampa-to-Miami).  Around 3 o’clock I pulled into a Jiffy Lube in Naples for a 10,000-mile oil change, then it was back on the road, north on I-75 past Bradenton where I used to live and past Tampa around 6 p.m.  I wasn’t tired so I figured I’d keep driving until I got sleepy, so I continued on I-75 into central and then northern Florida, where I picked up I-10 heading west, then I drove through Tallahassee around 11 p.m. 

My eyelids started drooping an hour later so I pulled off the freeway at the town of Crestview and found a motel.  Not to sleep in a room, mind you, but in the parking lot – so called “boondocking.”  I just needed a few hours of sleep and decided not to spend $100 for a room, so instead I found a parking lot and crawled into the back of my truck.  I hadn’t boondocked much since my college days, but sometimes it’s just easier that way – and cheaper too, of course.

After a few hours of sleep, I was back on the Interstate at 6 a.m., crossing into three states over the next few hours that I hadn’t visited on the trip yet:  Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, states #44, 45, and 46.  The only four states that I wouldn’t be visiting on this trip were Alaska, Hawaii, Arkansas and Kentucky.  I’ve been to all 50 states on previous road trips; in fact, I’ve been to every state several times.  I reached my fiftieth state, Arkansas, back in 1985 when I did an around-the-country trip in my 1969 yellow Ford Mustang convertible.  I’d been camping down on the bayou in southern Louisiana on that trip and looked at the map one evening when I realized that the only state I’d never been to, Arkansas, lay just 300 miles to the north.  The next morning, I drove my Mustang straight north, crossed the Arkansas state line and took a picture of the “Welcome to Arkansas” sign, then headed back south and into Texas, continuing on my trip.  That was just a few weeks before my twenty-fifth birthday, so I could proudly tell my friends that I’d been to all 50 states before I was 25.

On this trip, however, I was heading straight to Austin.  I passed through Mobile, still early in the morning, then through Baton Rouge at midday and reached Houston just in time for the evening rush hour.  Finally around 9 p.m., I pulled into Austin and knocked on Joan’s door, and she greeted me with a smile.

I had come through Austin earlier on this trip, back in late May, and spent nearly a week visiting Joan and her kids.  Joan and her departed husband, Ace, were close friends of my parents at Michigan State University many years ago when I was just a tyke.  They eventually retired to Austin and my folks and I moved to California, but we’ve always kept in touch, so I’ve known Joan and her kids virtually my entire life.  Joan has three children, two of whom live nearby.  Her oldest, Julie, is a bit older than me and lives a few miles away, while Joan’s son, Lou, lives with his wife and two young daughters about 20 miles away. 

After being on the road for several months and constantly having to move from campsite to campsite, it was really nice to stay put for a while.  Originally I'd planned to stay in Austin for just a few days, but Joan is such a gracious host, and we both enjoyed each other’s company so much, that I stayed here for about two weeks:  decompressing from my trip, getting my website caught up, and just enjoying not having to pack up every morning.  I enjoy traveling but had greatly missed the sense of "home."  Joan’s loving husband Ace, who passed away about five years ago, was Italian and the family has a tradition of making ravioli every Christmas season, so the whole gang – Julie, Lou, his wife and their two young daughters – came over to Joan’s house one afternoon and everyone made ravioli from scratch.  It was a lot of fun.

I’ve had a great time here in Austin these past few weeks, getting caught up with Joan, Julie and Lou, and just staying put.  But now it’s time to push on.

 

Florida to Austin, Texas

 

 
 
 
 

 

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