Herald Outdoors Columnist
The road trip has an ominous beginning. Five minutes in a Wal-Mart are too many. An hour is an eternity.
I don't shop enough here to know where anything is and, of course, I'm totally on my own. Sales assistance at Wal-Mart is as rare as Bermuda shorts in Antarctica. Look the least bit bewildered or confused and every on-the-floor employee either takes a bathroom break or ducks behind a Rollback sign. Except the greeter. He or she remains visible and vocal, cheerily "welcoming" all comers. Most of them really mean it, too. Bless their naive little hearts.
I need fishing tackle, a three-day Florida fishing license, camping groceries and sunscreen. One hour after being welcomed, I finally check out.
I-10 East. Marianna to Tallahassee. Like all interstate stretches everywhere it is miles and miles of nothing. I soon tire of that and get off. Exit 225, U.S. 19 to Capps. Then U.S. 19/27 to Perry.
Perry. Lunchtime. Burger King. Good trailer space. Plenty of room for my pop-up camper. I pull "Motel Cletus" into an available space, exit my truck and enter the establishment whose commercials once told me I could "have it my way." But alas, it seems I can't anymore. At least not in Perry, Fla. I can't, I am told, have free barbecue sauce with my Whopper combo.
"Have to charge you extra if you're not ordering chicken tenders," says Burger King Woman.
I don't want chicken tenders. I just want to dip my fries in barbecue sauce. I opt for the free ketchup and don't make a scene. I sit down, unpooch my lips and bite into my Whopper. A glob of conglomerated condiment plops onto the front of my shirt. Maybe if they cut back on the mayonnaise they could afford to give a fella a little barbecue sauce? I'm just sayin' ...
U.S. 27 South out of Perry. Two-lane stretch. One of the "Blue Highways." Old roads always help my feelings and this one is no exception. Walmart, the interstate and Burger King are forgotten.
Mayo. Nice little town. Didn't a surprisingly good University of Florida quarterback named Kerwin Bell come out of here several years ago? I'm certain I remember that, but have no earthly idea why. UF football history is not something I dwell on much.
Branford, on the Suwannee. "Spring Diving Capital of the World," says the city-limit sign. Not an empty boast, I surmise. Limestone springs, big ones, abound in this region. This is a land of brittle, fragile Florida bedrock and beautiful crystal waters.
I pass roads leading to Ichetucknee Springs State Park, where revelers in gaudy inner tubes and rafts clog the Ichetucknee River all summer. More tubes and tubers there than in Helen, Ga., on the Chattahoochee. My God, I didn't think that was possible.
Left off 27 onto a county road. Motel Cletus is trailering smoothly and well. I open my window a crack so I can hear his tires hum. I like that sound, the sound of "The Road."
Dead end at U.S. 441. I love old 441. Might be my favorite highway. With due respect to Route 66, this, too, is a "Mother Road," an American "main street," a prime north/south route to and from Florida when Florida was still Florida. Before Busch Gardens, Disney, and ... Well, don't get me started.
Ah, here I am. O'Leno State Park. Three nights' camping. I'll canoe the Santa Fe River, fish, rest and relax.
Oops! No I won't. No canoeing. Water's too late-summer low and stagnant. No canoeing, no fishing.
Okay. Just R&R, then. That's enough.
Wrong again. One good night's sleep, one day's hiking and rambling, then, like a bill collector or a bad relative, up pops Mr. 24-Hour Bug. I'll spare the details. You know what I'm talking about. And, y'all, that 24-hour thing is a myth when you're 58 years old. It's been five days and I'm still recovering. Wal-Mart and Burger King woes are small matters indeed.
But, hey, what's that they say about making lemonade from lemons? Just look what I got for my troubles.
I got Mayo, Branford, High Springs. I got green pastures, verdant woods, the Suwannee River. I got 19, 27, 441; the beloved blue highways. I got The Road.
And a precious little piece of the old Florida.
I'll take it, dadgummit.
Questions? Comments? E-mail Bob Kornegay at firstname.lastname@example.org