July 31, 2012 – You’ll notice I never continued with our survival series, and haven’t updated with travel tales of any kind for a long time. Work exploded, life exploded, I was beginning to feel like my entire life revolved around my computer.
So one Tuesday, Kent grabbed me and told me he was taking me to watch the sun set over the ocean in Cedar Key. What you see in the photo is not Cedar Key, nor is it the ocean.
This is what happens when we decide to go to Cedar Key and don’t double-check on a map which road to take. (Tip for the locals: It’s not Newberry.) And this was us, realizing we were in the wrong place, and deciding, “Let’s see where this road goes!”
We realized something was wrong when we drove over the Suwannee River and found ourselves in Old Town. Notice on the map, Old Town. And notice that road marked “24″ that leads into Cedar Key. Obviously we weren’t on it…
No problem, I pulled out my trusty Droid to figure out where we went wrong. We saw the way to Cedar Key, but we also saw that unmarked road following along the Suwannee River (that big river you see there near Old Town) that appeared to just end at some unmarked place at the ocean. The decision was obvious.
The road was, just as it looked, straight to the ocean. No towns, no turnoffs. After getting, I don’t know, 15 miles or more down this deserted road, we started joking that we were going to get to the end and find some barricaded military base and have to turn around.
But no, nothing that exciting. The road ended, just as it appears, right at the ocean. Literally. The road stops, there’s a stop sign, a blinking light, and a single guard rail between you and what appears to be fairly deep water. The only way to go was left, into an area with a bunch of houses. So we set off to find a beach.
We didn’t find a beach. What we found was a lot of this:
We did find some water, like you see in the initial image, and here:
We couldn’t really get to any of it, though. We found a couple of boat launches, but other than that, if there were any public water-front areas, we didn’t find them. What we did find was houses. Lots and lots of houses, often really nice, with the occasional odd trailer, often single-wide and rusty, sitting in between.
(That mobile home above was not meant to represent “rusty.” In the areas with “rusty,” we didn’t stop for photos. We didn’t particularly feel unsafe, but anyone who’s seen horror movies knows you don’t just stop on a random tiny dirt road to photograph an old trailer when you have no cell reception and it’s almost dark.)
You may have noticed what you don’t see in the images above: people. We’d been driving around the narrow maze of streets for almost an hour, half the time having no idea which way was “out,” and had seen maybe four people. Many of these houses were boarded up, and there were “For Sale” signs everywhere.
So we gave up on the idea of a beach sunset and decided to find food. A town 20 miles from anywhere with this many vacation houses has to have somewhere to eat.
Luckily, the town did have a restaurant. (One.) Had we needed one, it also had a store. (One.) Luckily we didn’t need a gas station. (None.) There may have been other businesses at the marina, but they close early afternoon. So, Suwannee Cafe it was.
The staff was hanging out outside when we arrived, and we were the only customers. Once we were seated, I asked the ultimate clueless traveler question, “So where are we exactly?” We’d found the town of Suwannee. Population 300, situated right where the Suwannee River meets the ocean.
Apparently they put on a huge fireworks show and festival every July 4th that brings huge crowds to town, but aside from that, we found out we weren’t terribly wrong in our assessment that the town was a bit… light on people at the moment. Apparently this is part of Florida’s “hidden coast.” Very hidden…
But the food was good, the staff was extremely nice, and the restaurant had a certain quirky charm, and the best hushpuppies I’ve ever had. (I don’t say that lightly!) Their fried broccoli and cheese… things… were really good, too.
So that’s the story of our failed attempt to go to Cedar Key, and what can happen if you just decide to “see where that road goes.” Sure, we missed a beach sunset, but we’ve seen the beach. Instead, we got an amusing drive around a deserted town, good food, good conversation, and an awesome new place to take our boat!
Forget all of Florida’s famous beaches with their shops and miles of people tucked under beach umbrellas. I’ll take a quiet day in a quiet town, with just me, Kent, our little boat (next time!), the ocean, and the wildlife any day. Especially if the day ends with awesome hushpuppies.