Taking inspiration from Jeff Klinkenberg, I researched a few routes on Motorcycleroads.com and settled on the Ocala National Forest. I couldn’t have known at the time that it would take me from Florida’s past to its present over the course of a little over one hundred miles of asphalt and painted yellow lines.
Sometimes in life it is therapeutic to drive somewhere where there is no phone service, where it is almost as if you don’t exist. The Ocala National Forest fits that description perfectly. Florida route 19 bisects the forest north/south and offered me a perfect opportunity to disappear, if only for a few hours. At the beginning of the route I couldn’t help but take a picture of a bear crossing sign. Its up there with some of the funnier highway signs I’ve seen, including the “Farts” warning in Norway and the classic falling rocks design on European highways. Walking back to the car the silence is complete. There are no noises, at this point not even any passing cars. Just trees and the two-lane highway, a straight line that (I wish) went on forever.
I spend a few hours exploring the dirt roads that dot the forest, avoiding the pick up trucks that seem to appear in the middle of the road at the top of every crest. I guess people get too used to being alone in the forest, and I understand it. It feels like driving on tightly packed snow and I have a little fun before reminding myself that if I screw up the car I will be providing lunch, I suppose, for the local bear population.
Back on the pavement I see a sign for Ormond Beach, outside of Daytona. After the natural solitude of the forest the beach will offer a different experience in nature for me and I turn the car east to the coast. As I head to the coast I think of the father’s words in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, realizing that—eventually—the forest will swallow Florida route 19. It’s only…natural.
From driving on dirt roads I go to driving on the sand. I find it odd that one should even be allowed to drive on the beach, it is an assault on nature. But it doesn’t seem like anyone cares. Looking up and down the sand one sees that nature has already been assaulted in the name of money. Hotels line the beach for as long as the eye can see. I smile at the birds that seem oblivious to the encroachment of humanity encouraged by greed.
Further down the coast past soviet style condominiums, in Daytona Beach, I decide to get myself a piece of art, a little bit of southern kitsch: the airbrushed hat. I order my design and ask the man where he is from. I know its somewhere I can relate to. “I am from planet Earth” he says, laughing. No doubt many people ask the same question daily. I am offended that he would think I want to insult him, but then again I know the depths of human ignorance that he may have faced.
“I know that much.”
“Palestine. I am from Palestine”. Indeed, somewhere I can relate to. As I wait for my “art” I step out onto the boardwalk, staring at the beach roller-coaster. I guess this is life on the beach in a culture I never got to experience: Beach culture in the American south. Staring out at the water I think of the absurdity of life: a Palestinian airbrush artist making hats for people who (most likely) would not be able to point his home out on a map. Its odd, but it is what America should be. Everyone comes from somewhere, and everyone does something. Luckily for me, this man does his job well. For me it is definitely more than a hat, it is a piece of art.
On the way home I come upon the Mecca of human encroachment on nature: Daytona International Speedway. The track looms over the road in all its grandeur, the epicenter of American motorsport. For a moment I wish I could take my Saab for a test drive but preparations for the Daytona 500 are taking place.
Forty minutes later and I am again in the middle of the Ocala National Forest, stopped at a four-way intersection on Florida route 40, running east/west. The sky is streaked in purples and oranges, another day ends in a watercolor. The past 150 miles have taken me through the various ecologies—and road types—of Florida: From Swamp to Beach; from dirt road to sand. I don’t know of another state that can offer such contrasts in such short distances and that, in itself, makes it a good day. The light turns green and it’s time to go, I find myself wishing all crossroads in life were this simple to negotiate.
But they’re not. And that is why “motoring”, in the Gatsby sense, is enjoyable. Moments after the intersection I crest a small hill to find myself looking squarely into a pair of headlights. I slam the breaks and flash my brights, the erring driver squeezes between an SUV and eighteen-wheeler. And that’s where the fact remains: When going for a drive your life is in your hands, literally. If someone crosses the double yellow on a two lane your only recourse is in your hands. Perhaps it is the proximity to death that makes adventure worthwhile. After all, what of the world—or life—would we learn on the couch?
Drive sound track: