Florida Panhandle Tour

Florida Panhandle Tour
The R rule is one of the seafood basics I remember from my younger days on the Chesapeake Bay. If a month contains the letter R, it's OK to eat oysters. My destination is the Florida Panhandle, the month is February, and the Apalachicola area of the Panhandle happens to be world renowned for its oysters. I'm certainly no rocket scientist - they're all over at Cape Canaveral - but it appears that somebody's going to be slamming down some bivalves.

I Can't Help My Shellfishness

According to the rule, February should be the best time to chisel my way through a pail of shells. After all, it's the only month with two R's, whether the first one is pronounced or not. R regardless, the Kawasaki Concours is tossing back the southbound miles on Route 319 with ease and the prospect of hitting Tallahassee at lunchtime has me thinking college-town chow. Aside from being the Sunshine State's capital, Tallahassee is home to Florida State University. With plenty of hungry Seminoles constantly on the prowl, I know my culinary choices will be endless.

About 30 miles north of town, I take Route 12 west over to Route 155 south and soon find myself officially on the tour. I am pleasantly surprised to discover I'm riding on one of Tallahassee's famed Canopy Roads, originally old Indian trails that later became market roads. Plantation owners lined the roads with live oaks that have since grown over the road, their branches intertwining. Spanish moss has taken a liking to these surroundings and hangs copiously from the limbs. The sunshine filtering through the porous archway seemingly springs to life, partnered to sway in the warm Florida breeze with the grayish-green filaments. I vastly enjoy exploring these canopy roads. But my schedule says otherwise. It's good to know that the state law protects Tallahassee's Canopy Roads. They'll be around for years to come.

Forging ever closer to town, Route 155 becomes North Meridian Road. Eventually houses, condos, and lots of cars replace the live oaks. The warm day heating up the bumper-to-bumper traffic has me rethinking lunch, and the decision to escape the throngs of harried drivers, all seemingly late for class, comes easily. I find Route 20 and head west.

A quick, tasty bite of spicy-sweet brisket at a local barbeque hangout just outside of town has me reenergized and ready to tackle the afternoon. Despite the bellyful of tender beef, I know that somewhere south of here a number of poor, unsuspecting oysters are being rudely pried from their bed. Dinner tonight will be compliments of a hard-working waterman's tongs.

I pick up Route 375 south and hope to get a good feel for Florida's wild lands with a ride through the Apalachicola National Forest. What I get doesn't feel all that great. The road is flat, straight, and it offers little in the way of scenery save millions of pine trees. For miles and miles the road is nothing but an elongated triangle stretched out directly in front of the bike, its point eternally obscured by distant, liquescent heat waves.

After what seems an eternity, a short stint on Route 319 ends at Route 98. I'm looking at the Gulf of Mexico. Heading west toward Carabelle, I'm amazed by how calm the water is. No waves at all, not even a ripple. The fact that this area of the coast is lightly populated adds to the serenity; and the slant of the afternoon sun has the few boats on the water looking like they're perched atop a huge mirror.

The short ride along the coast grants a brief respite from the drab, inland scenery, and I dread my northward turn on Route 67. I'm right. The featureless road seems scarcely more than an excuse to have laid asphalt through pine trees. Thankfully, the loop only takes an hour and the Gulf is again coming into sight. By now, the sunset is in full glory and the rays are putting on a free light show.

Sailing across the bridge into Apalachicola, I'm beginning to feel the toll that two days of hard riding have taken. I'll be staying the night at the Gibson Inn, the first building I see as I pull into town. The lobby is absolutely beautiful. Done in warm, rich woods,it oozes both charm and history. I think I'm going to like this place. As I'm checking in, I hear that I've just missed the innkeepers, who've gone out for a motorcycle ride. At least I know I'm in good hands. It's not long before I head out on foot to find my oysters. I don't have to travel far before I'm situated at the bar of the Apalachicola Seafood Grill and waiting for oysters with a side of oysters. A couple dozen delectable bivalves and a beer or two later, I find myself wandering back to the inn, soaking in the warm gulf breeze and the comfortable ambiance of this working-class waterfront community. There's a feeling in the air that things around here haven't changed much over the years.

When I get back to the inn, I find the innkeepers have returned with several of their riding buddies. Conversation ranges from area history and restaurant recommendations to extended discussions about riding and custom Harley-Davidsons. Finally, exhausted, I retire upstairs to my cushy four-poster bed and drift off wondering if the sea captain's ghost will visit tonight. Request room 309 and they'll tell you all about it.