From Great Lakes to Bayous
The Notiers Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
It might seem crazy to want to visit Florida in the middle of the summer, but Tim and I never shy away from doing something a little crazy. And so when the opportunity arose to take a long ride from the Midwest down to visit family in Florida this past week, of course we couldn't refuse.
We started our journey up in Michigan, visiting friends who have a house on a gorgeous little lake there. When we left Chicago, some grey and threatening storm clouds hung around the skyscrapers, making the whole place look like Gotham City. But by the time we got to Michigan, the skies had cleared and we were able to enjoy ourselves to the fullest on the lake. We went wake boarding and wake surfing for the first time (and I have to say, it was super fun, but my whole body was sore afterwards from wiping out on the water). The pine trees surrounding the lake gave the place a deep northern feel, like bits of wild Canada were draping down into the state of Michigan, bringing with it cool breezes and cormorants.
From Michigan, we headed south, stopping by a relative's house near Carbondale at the southern tip of the Illinois. Although most of Illinois is flat, having been steamrolled by glaciers in ages past, the bottom of the state has rolling and sweeping hills, creating little nooks of rivers and lakes around every corner. We started to feel the humid heat of the South, and the loud sounds of the insects at night gave it a jungle-like feel.
After a wonderful stay there (at the same place where we saw the total solar eclipse back in 2017 and started our great global journey on the motorcycle), we continued south in a more-or-less direct line to Florida. But instead of taking the main interstate highways, we decided to take the back roads through the countryside, passing by vast farms surrounding old farmstead houses and barns, and zooming along twisting forest roads engulfed in chirping birds.
I love taking these country roads for several reasons. Even though it takes more time overall, we get to go at a slower pace and really see a side of the state that we would miss on the highways. When you're on the interstate, you'd be forgiven for believing that the whole of the USA is just one big strip mall of junk food franchises, gas stations, and every once in a while, little oases and parks.
But once off the interstate we got to ride through the little towns that actually make up the beating heart of America - the small mom-and-pop stores that have been there for decades, and the unique restaurants serving everything from local Southern cuisine to the delicacies that working immigrants have brought to the area. Plumes of spicy-smelling smoke would billow out of barbecue smokehouses, bringing the scent of whole hogs being roasted, or a slab of ribs. People fishing could be spotted along the banks of the rivers, or hanging their lines down from boats, trying to catch catfish or "mud bugs".
The picturesque silos and red-sided barns of Kentucky gently turned into the crests of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee, looking like still waves of the ocean rippling off into the distance. We camped at a free campsite near Chattanooga, deep in the forests and surrounded by friendly campers in RVs and vans, who had big bellies, big smiles, and lovely sing-song accents. We spent the evening cooking up chicken sausages and watching the fireflies dance and twinkle through the trees.
After a good night's sleep of listening to the humming of bugs and night frogs, we crossed into Georgia in the morning, a state I'd never been to before. And even though you'd never assume that things would change once across an artificial state line, Georgia felt immediately different from Tennessee. Mostly it had to do with the trees, since many of them were covered in Spanish Moss, and some people even had banana trees growing in their lawns. These signs of the sub-tropics were reinforced by the increasing heat and humidity as well.
Georgia was a joy to ride through, and all those quintessential "Georgia" things were actually all present on our ride - perfectly historic churches in a Federalist style lining the town squares, the laid-back slow walk of the locals, and the peaches, all the peaches! We passed orchard after orchard of just peach trees.
We spent a night camping at an RV park south of Macon, and even though it was right off the highway, I was very pleased with its great showers, electricity, and a pool and mini golf course. Finally, the next day we crossed into Florida, and once again, everything changed. Peach trees turned into palm trees, and the gentle Southern vibe of casual politeness disappeared as it seemed that everyone from across the States has converged on Florida for fun in the sun, creating a traffic-filled race to the beach.
We stopped for lunch at a Wendy's, and as we waited in the long lines, we watched a woman park in a handicapped spot without a handicapped sticker, then get out of her car and throw a slushy onto the ground, along with some other trash from her car. She was not even three feet from a garbage.
I went out and picked up her trash, but the experience left a sour taste in my mouth, that is until we met Joe the truck driver who counterbalanced this woman's lousy actions. We often get questions about our motorcycle and where we've been, and Joe said he'd met someone else who'd also flown his bike from Africa during the pandemic... and I thought there is only one person like that. I asked him if he knew Leo, the guy from Miami who we traveled with in Uganda and Rwanda, and sure enough, it was him! What a strange, small world we live in!
We headed down the Gulf coast to Sarasota, and had to pass both Tampa and the turnoff to Orlando, inevitably hitting a bunch of traffic. It was hot, muggy, stop-and-go, bumper to bumper, with a bunch of people from everywhere, some of whom didn't quite know how to drive. It was a torturous mess, but once we got to Sarasota, the ocean breezes brought the salty smell of the ocean to our noses, and we happily pulled up next to the small brackish water bayou where Tim's mother lives.
We've been here for a couple days now, and one of Tim's brothers has come to visit, so it's been great to see so much family on this trip. It's also been great to be in air conditioning, because it is certainly hot here. But there's something to be said for having some sunshine and ocean breezes, along with great company. And it's good to be on the road again,
I hope everyone out there is well. Until next time...
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