In many ways, this is the ‘real’ Day One - Nick and I had discussed staying another day in Spring Hill so Nick has chance to rest up before we hit the road but we’ve decided to get going today. This'll mean we can stretch out the journey a little more before we arrive at New Orleans for New Year's Eve.
But first things first, we have to collect the car. After an easy morning around the pool, we travelled out to the airport to pick up our full size sports utility vehicle - unfortunately our plans fell apart immediately in spectacular fashion. You see, unbeknownst to us - mostly because the German tour operator Nick organised the car through failed to mention it - the driver has to have a credit card to rent a full size SUV. Nick's paltry debit card wouldn't allow them to automatically charge us for the full cost of the car (!!) should we lose it.
Our combined English charms did nothing to convince the National rep to give us the car we paid for, so we were presented with a choice - either go with a regular SUV or upgrade to a pickup truck. If you know anything about either Nick or I, you can imagine the choice was a quick one. So we stumped up the additional cash and wandered into the parking lot to pick up what will essentially be our home for the next few weeks - this is what's awaited us.
A Dodge Ram 1500. It's a 5.7 litre V6 - I don't know what any of that means, but it's taller than us and the trip computer is telling us that it does 20 miles to the gallon. I guess it's lucky petrol is so cheap here... So, after climbing aboard (literally in my case) we headed back to Spring Hill, packed the car and said our farewells to my parents and got straight on the road.
Initially our plan was to try to get from Tampa (in the middle of Florida) to Tallahassee, which lies on the western spur of the state as it heads towards Alabama. I say 'our plan' but that makes it sound like we're much more organised than we really are - case in point, we only actually plotted our route yesterday night on the breakfast island of my aunt and uncle's house. Our laissez faire approach to itinerary design aside, most of the routes we'll be taking are Interstate roads - efficient and direct, essentially motorways and so not the most picturesque of roads. So we decided to head out on the Scenic Highway instead, which essentially pushes around the Gulf of Mexico and sounded a lot nicer.
Unfortunately, the title was somewhat misleading. It's just another big road, but the point was rendered moot as it was pitch black pretty much the instant we got on the road. Still, it allowed us to pass through some of the smaller towns around the Gulf Coast, some of which started to respond to my thoughts on identity that I mentioned earlier. After some Herculean driving from Nick pushed us a little further around than we'd initially planned, we arrived at the city of Apalachicola a little after 10PM.
City is probably stretching the term a little, but it's very pretty here - there's a feel of New England, and more than a little hint of Fifties Americana - it's exactly the sort of thing I'm hoping this trip will present us with. The town centre is pinned around the Gibson Inn, a hotel dating back to 1907, a sort of French colonial relic that had been tempered with New England again. Luckily they had a room, so we dropped our bags off and then went to try and find a place for dinner.
Food's important to both Nick and I - the food on offer in America is a major source of excitement for us both. That being said, our first meal of the trip is something we'd discussed and we wanted it to be something we'd remember. And so it was, but not in the way we quite thought. The hour and time of year conspired against us, so we weren't gifted with much choice - either a tapas bar (that was home to some pumping beats but no people) or a Subway from the nearby gas station. We went for the latter, and whilst the food wasn't anything too special, the environment certainly was. As we sat eating our foot-longs, the town of Apalachicola moved around us - off duty cops, local gothic teens, new mothers and the manager of our hotel all came and went and all acknowledged the other (the manager even came over to tell us we'd left the rear window of the car open. It was a great insight into how close this community is, and felt like a genuinely American experience - exactly the right setting for our first meal of the trip.
After dinner, we returned to the Gibson and sat on the veranda outside our room, having a beer to toast the start of this adventure we've embarked upon. We're moving on towards New Orleans tomorrow, for New Year's Eve, but - if today is anything to go by - who knows where we'll end up.