Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Sunshine State Grows Cloudy

On Feburary 13 we had our first day off in some time, and we were looking forward to spending it on a Florida beach. Our journey would be both of our first across the Florida Panhandle. We would stop for the night in Pensacola, which I knew primarily from the dream sequences in the movie Contact, before heading to the lovely Gulf Coast town of Daphne, Alabama.

What we hadn't prepared for was how unpopulated the Panhandle is. As we rounded the corner from Tampa towards Alabama, the palm trees began to disappear. The closer we got to Pensacola, the more the terrain matched the swampy environs of other Gulf costal regions.

Apparently Florida more than once in its history has tried to sell the Panhandle to Alabama, with which it has much more in common than with the peninsula of Florida. According to the always reliable and trustworthy Wikipedia, Alabama's leaders rejected the offer calling the land "a sand bank and gopher region."

Along Route 10 (also known as the Christopher Columbus Highway) there were few land marks, few stopping points and not much scenery. And it was incredibly flat. Forida has the lowest highpoint among the fifty states. Lower that Louisiana, high point 535 feet, even Delaware whose highest point is only 448 feet above sea level. Florida's highest point is Britton Hill near the Alabama border in Walton County, elevation 345 feet.

Most of the population along the route seems to be stationed in military bases-- something that would become a theme of our time in the South. Military bases in Florida and Albama, much to Valery's surprise, make no secret of their location. They are easy to see and observe. (The image above is from the Elgin Airforce Base's Web page-- of course they have a web page.)

Our hopes of relaxing on a beach with drinks with little umbrellas in them were dashed completely when a dramatic, pounding rain descended upon us. It was a bit like driving under Niagara Falls. The blowing wind made our swaying journey across the three-mile Pensacola Bay Bridge a different kind of adventure.

We entered Florida on the lucky 7th and exited on the unlucky 13th, a fairly complete circle in the Sunshine State. The change to the Central Time Zone is a plus, we've completed about 50 classes, just about the half way point, and the extra hour of sleep will do us good.

"People dream of a life like this," Valery said. "Traveling, seeing all America, meeting people..."