11/7/17 – Destin to Panama City, FL

Before leaving Henderson Beach State Park, Ed and I decided to take the boardwalk down to the beach to see it in the daylight.

Apparently Highway 98 used to parallel the beach, where we were walking, but they rerouted it to save protected bird species nesting there.

The seashore was quiet and beautiful, with fine, white sand, and no people. Very nice.  Once I got that pesky sand off my feet, we hit the road for destination:  Panama City. 

Early on in the day, we came across Point Washington State Forest. In Arizona, the only naturally occurring pine trees are above 4200 feet elevation, but here, they are at sea level. I am assuming that is because of the frequent and abundant rainfall. 

For a good part of the day, the route passed through scenic little beach towns, my favorites being Grayson Beach, Water Color and Seaside. 

We stopped in Seaside to eat lunch at a food truck mall that was all vintage Airstream trailers. 

Our 50ish mile ride was lengthened into the 60s, due to a bridge closure detour that added over 5 miles, and then an unmarked turn in the detour that added a couple more.  

Ed dropped me after lunch, so I ended up riding the first part of the afternoon with Ken.  We stopped at what appeared to be an abandoned restaurant that claimed to have live alligators. I noticed an enclosure, so was compelled to explore (Ken rolled his eyes—one of his classic moves.)  There were probably 15 alligators playing dead, in that enclosure.  I did my best to not fall over the 3 barriers of fencing, as I took photos.  

A few miles later, we stopped for shaved ice, which takes forever to eat, because you get a head freeze, then he Ken wanted to get some ice cream. I had plans to swim up ahead, so decided to move on. 

I had picked out a beach to stop and relax on in Panama City, before the road turned inland.  After picking up a cheap beach towel at one of the shops, I found a changing room for my costume change, then hit the beach.  Again, more fine white sand, very few people, etc.  

Forget California. These beaches are awesome, and the water is much more comfortable—probably 78 degrees. 

The manta rays are currently migrating, so they were swimming in geese-like formations along the shore. Some of the youngsters chased waves in so they could jump the crests as they broke.  Fun to watch. 

I also got a kick out of these little birds who ran out after waves to dig for ???  I never knew what they were pulling out of the ground. 

But then, my leisure time was over, and I had to change back into my cycling kit and start peddling again. While close to the beach, in the Panama City tourist zone, there were all kinds of tourist attractions. 

Once the route angled away from the beach, it turned treacherous. The bike lane disappeared and I was hugging the curb in rush-hour traffic for 15 exceedingly long miles, during which the sun set.  

It was the scariest section of road I’ve been on since the windy descent outside of San Diego.  I just gripped those handlebars (white knuckles the entire way) and kept going, having faith that everyone would see and pull around me.  When I safely arrived our motel, I felt like kissing the ground.  

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